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Notes from a month of being a tourist in the Visayas with my girlfriend


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James Bond

I'd been to the Philippines once before the pandemic. I was waiting for the country to open up to tourists again, intending to look for a good girl for potential marriage. I  got on Filipino Cupid early in the 2022, about when it reopened to tourists. I did find a girl who seemed hardworking, not out for my money, etc. (I had a previous experience, in 2019, choosing the wrong girl: she liked to spend my money rather than being careful with my it, etc.). The girl I found was a university student (I'm mid 50s, but probably look 10 years younger, and Filipinas think I'm handsome), with a year or so to go till she had a degree. She was from a poor family, but managed to get a scholarship and work ("working student" or housekeeper) to afford a private university in Bohol.

She wanted me to visit her at the end of the summer, so I booked a ticket three months in advance to stay there a month. My usual Google Flights was showing high prices, but I managed to find a $1442 coach trip from Florida to Manila, on Kayak I believe. That was much cheaper than the other flights I found. I booked it direct on Asiana's site. Perhaps it didn't show on Google Flights because it wasn't that great a flight: it had a long layover in JFK with a change of terminals. I'd looked on Priceline too, but found it frustrating (e.g. disappearing rates).

I planned on traveling with her for a month, and I spent a lot of time before the trip researching places I wanted to visit (places that were easy to get to from Bohol or Cebu). This thread here was part of that research.

She was really eager to meet me as soon as I arrived, so I agreed to fly her to Manila. I booked a couple of nights at the Belmont Hotel at the airport to recuperate from the flight and relax with her ($75/night with breakfast on Agoda, with price match and I didn't have to pay till just before I stayed). I was arriving very late, so I wanted her to be able to check into the hotel before I got there. I made her the lead guest and tried to email and call the Belmont, but they didn’t respond/answer the phone. I got a quick response when I used Messenger, however. That's one of my lessons about the Philippines: it's very Facebook-centric. Sometimes Messenger is the best way to reach companies, which someone from the US wouldn't guess. The Belmont said they wanted a 2K PHP/night incidentals deposit from her and said “According to our Reservations team, you may settle the incidental deposit via your credit card upon check-in.” She didn't pay a deposit and we didn’t need to do anything when I arrived, however: they just said I wouldn’t be able to bill things to the room.

I booked a couple of other hotels in advance too. My preferred hotel in Panglao, Oasis, booked out 10 days in advance, so I decided to go to Siquijor before Panglao (after Manila then Bohol to meet her family). I booked Coco Grove in Siquijor on Agoda, and later discovered that Coco Grove doesn't list their standard rooms on Agoda. I could have saved $22/night by booking the cheaper room direct (and they looked just about as good, with verandas).

On this trip, we ended up traveling to these places: arriving in Manila, Bohol, Siquijor, Panglao, Cebu City, southern Cebu, back to Bohol, and then to Manila to fly home.

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James Bond

So the plan was to fly Barangay Princess (BP) to Manila to meet me, then we'd go to Bohol to meet her family, then we'd travel together. 

She suggested that we take her family on a daytrip around Bohol for me to bond with them. She looked around and found M. Andrade Travel and Tours, which would be 3,500 pesos plus gas for a big van (she has a big family). She paid a 500 peso deposit on the van.

Meanwhile, BP lost both her jobs because of me. As I mentioned, she was a "working student:" housekeeper for a couple. When they heard she was going to spend a month with a foreigner, she was told she couldn't stay there. Supposedly, the wife didn't approve, even after BP said we were serious about each other and I wanted her to finish her education. BP also lost her other job: "working scholar" (working at the university). She'd asked to work full-time at the beginning of the summer, instead of part time, and trade with someone else who'd work full time at the end of the summer. That was approved. Later her boss told her that she couldn't take more than two weeks off, however. BP said she'd pick me over the job (I'd already booked my ticket by then) and told them she'd end her work at the end of the spring semester instead of working through the summer. I wonder if jealousy of the lucky girl that gets a foreigner entered into those job losses?

So finally it was July, and time to travel from Florida to the Philippines.

When I was booking my transportation to the airport online, I learned that you should only use the last four digits of a flight number.

As I mentioned, I got a cheap, but not-great flight through New York. At JFK I had to take the AirTrain between terminals during my long layover. Take your time to look at the displays of arriving trains and get the right one: some of them go around the terminals while others go far from JFK. In Florida, there was a separate TSA PreCheck line, but at JFK I was in the same line as others and had to tell the security people I was PreCheck. Then they didn't make you take off your shoes and such. So this leg wasn't what I pay the TSA for (though the program is still cheap and worth it overall).

Expensive airport food: $24 for bowl of pretty weak noodles and shrimp at Soy & Sake near my gate. I should have gotten a $14 sandwich instead: my objective when traveling is to eat enough, not to eat perfectly healthy (I normally eat healthy, so I defaulted to that on this layover).

There was paid WiFi on the long Asiana flight, but I didn't buy it. They did have US power outlets. SeatGuru will tell you things like that and help choose good seats. I should have brought two water bottles onboard, instead of one, because they don't give you enough to drink and the bathroom water has a sign saying it’s not potable. They may not give you enough food either: I ate all four energy bars I brought with me. On long flights don't forget the basics: stay hydrated, get up and walk around sometimes for circulation, and loosen or take off your shoes as my feet puff up.

I had another stopover in Seoul, then on to Manila.

Barangay Princess (BP) was going to meet me at the airport, after checking into our hotel earlier. We couldn't find each other at first. I expected they'd let people into the arrivals area, but it turned out I had to go to the Greeters Area. They have lettered areas to meet, if I remember correctly. We eventually found each other.

I'd warned BP about airport transportation scams, but she let someone take our luggage and get us to a van, and I didn't object, maybe thinking she knew something more than I did, or because I'd just gotten off a long flight (close to 30 hours, IIRC) and met her. Then I heard the price and said we're not paying it. We joined the cab line instead and paid a lot less.

My flight to Manila arrived around 10:30 PM and we cabbed it over to our hotel, where I’d had her check in earlier.

I’d stayed in the Belmont hotel once before, loved their roof pool deck, and I wanted to take BP there. The Belmont and sister hotel the Savoy, which is nearby, are the most-recommended airport hotels, and seemed to be the best values too based on my online research. The Belmont is actually located across the walkway from Terminal 3, so it’s the most convenient hotel if you’re flying into/out of Terminal 3. I wasn’t this time, but I decided to stay there for my first two nights in the Philippines, to get over my jet lag and relax with BP. The Belmont is in Newport City, walking distance from Newport World Resorts (formerly known as Resorts World), with its higher-end hotels, casino, mall, and restaurants. I’ll report about the Savoy later, since I stayed there at the end of my trip. I didn’t feel like dealing with Manila traffic for this short stopover, but I’d like to stay in the Greenbelt area sometime in the future, and some hotels there seem to be decent values.

Unfortunately, when we got to the Belmont, the air conditioning in our room wasn’t working. I asked them to fix it, but it was around midnight, so I cancelled that request when they didn’t show up quickly.

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In the morning I complained about the AC again and requested a refund of the night or an upgrade to a suite for the next night. I didn’t get that much, however. We ended up in a slightly larger room which had enough desk space to work at and a corner view (though not a pretty one). Some of the power outlets have had problems in all three rooms I’ve stayed in at the Belmont. The bathroom could use more counter space and a fan. Temperature adjustment was trial and error, since the thermostat was way off (I bring a thermometer with me, since I get congested/cough if I get too hot). The bed had just a heavy blanket, not a light sheet, and I like to be cool; that’s a common complaint of mine about Filipino hotels. We liked the breakfast buffet here, though: perhaps the best of our trip.

Our experience on the Belmont roof deck the next night, having a drink then dinner, was exceptional. The pina colada was good and the food was pretty good. They had a barbecue on the roof this night, instead of the regular menu. What set it apart was five-star service, like opening our umbrella when it started to rain at the end of our meal then bringing us towels to cover ourselves when we walked back to the exit. Of course the ambiance at night was nice as well. It was 900 pesos, with an entrée for each of us, and I believe we left a tip.

Overall, I’m not sure I’d stay in the Belmont again unless I was using Terminal 3.

During my first day, we learned a few things. I’d decided to try and buy pasalubong for her family after I arrived, rather than carting chocolates around the world with me. (I had brought a couple of treats for BP with me on the plane, plus some electronic presents: now we were just shopping for her family.) I thought I’d just walk over to Terminal 3 arrivals and buy chocolates at Duty Free Philippines and a SIM. I learned that you can't access arrivals except when you’re flying in, however. There was a store where we saw chocolates, but BP wasn’t impressed and wanted to try the big Duty Free Philippines store later. We did manage to get a SIM card and cash at an ATM. At least the data in the Philippines is really cheap compared to the US. I got a 30-day Smart package. My phone uses Google Fi, which works worldwide. Fi uses Globe in the Philippines, so that gave me access to both major networks in case one was bad. Overall, we wasted a lot of time on that excursion wandering around and asking people where to find things, not what I wanted on the first morning of my trip.

It was lunch time by then. We walked down to Newport Mall and had lunch at Bulgogi Brothers. I used to get better Bi Bim Bap in college, and 750 pesos was rather expensive for what we got. The waitress said twice that they don’t have a service charge, which I think was pressure to leave a tip. As I understand it, the Philippines doesn’t have a tipping culture, and I hadn’t planned to give tips (though it was deserved for the Belmont roof deck). I left a tip this time, but pretty much stopped leaving tips after that. BP and I looked around the upscale Newport Mall and casino for a while.

After lunch we went to the big Duty Free Philippines store, Fiestamall, on the other side of the airport, for pasalubong chocolates. It wasn’t worth it: the selection wasn’t that great, and I saw that Lindt balls were far more expensive there than they are in America. Later we determined that Toblerone prices were 40% lower at the Lawson’s convenience store around the corner from the Belmont (it’s possible the sizes were different, but we didn’t think so). Later in the trip, we saw that BP’s usual grocery store had Toblerone too. In the future, I’d just get pasalubong when I get off the airplane, or at any store afterwards.

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Afterwards, our Grab driver had difficulty finding us, as Grab seemed to show us at a nearby business. Grab seems to default to nearby businesses, rather than showing your exact location like Uber. I should see if there’s a way to adjust the location. We messaged through the app and eventually found each other.

I don’t have much difficulty with jet lag. Short naps and caffeine are my techniques to stay up till normal sleeping times, and I also have melatonin, which is supposed to help getting asleep. I brought both pills with me, and only take half of a small caffeine pill, since I’m pretty sensitive to it.

The next morning a Belmont staffer said that Grab was a cheaper way to get to the airport than a cab, and it worked for us. They’d advised us to leave two hours before a domestic flight, so we did so.

I was able to bring water through security, unlike in the US. I had mixed experiences with that throughout my trip, though.

The AirAsia plane to Panglao offered less room than any flight I’ve been on, so I’m glad it was short. The meal we ordered in advance was pleasant, but didn’t have enough calories to last me a long time, and I was really hungry later in the day. I did bring my preferred “emergency food” with me on the trip: certain flavors of Larabar without chocolate (because it melts). I always keep them in my backpack and smaller “tourist bag.”

When we got to Panglao airport we found that there were neither taxis nor Grab. There were vans, costing 800 to Tagbilaran, Bohol. We paid 1,000 since we were going farther than downtown.

They wanted to see my physical vaccination card various times on this trip, including when I got off a ferry. I’m not sure if a picture of it on my smartphone would have sufficed. Hopefully seeing vaccination cards is a thing of the past now (this report is from July/August, 2022).

I’d booked three nights at the small Hotel Gabriella in Tagbilaran on Agoda for $130.23, $43/night. I didn’t like the Gabriella Hotel. They had cobwebs in multiple places and other bugs, my biggest complaint about the place. The shower was weak and the temperature variable. There were holes in curtains and a towel. There weren’t enough outlets. A staffer couldn’t explain how to use the safe, which was too small for a laptop. The handle of a drawer was hanging off. They didn’t change our towels. The pool was sometimes occupied by swim lessons. An alarm went off one night. The internet was poor. We had to walk a ways to the main road to get trikes. Breakfasts and the pool were decent, however. I wouldn’t return, and we ended up rating this our least-favorite hotel of the trip.

We spent 2,330 pesos getting groceries for her family, who we’d be taking on a van tour the next day. The grocery store was very crowded, and I found most Filipino grocery stores to be very crowded compared to US ones.

I liked the Shanghai lumpia at dinner in chain-restaurant Chow King, other dishes less so. Our meal cost 441 pesos. Their bathroom had toilet paper, as most places did on this trip, which is an improvement from what I remember from 2019. This trip I always kept Dude Wipes, as a toilet paper replacement, and moist towelettes (Sani-Hands are good) with me, and I recommend that practice.

We paid a trike 500 pesos to take us to her family home outside the city that evening, wait for us, and then return us to our hotel. The family welcomed me really nicely. BP had a banner printed up with my picture and a cake with my name on it, and they all cheered when I got into the house.

Her family cooked the groceries we’d bought them that night and brought them with us the next day. They also brought a lechon belly that they’d paid for themselves, which I was impressed by (the opposite of taking advantage of the rich foreigner).

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The next day, when we took her family on a van tour of various sites in Bohol, the van driver was asking people for directions instead of using Google Maps. I started following our route on my smartphone and saw that he took us far out of the way once. After that, we directed him with Google Maps. For that reason, I wouldn’t hire this company again. After the trip we paid him 1,700 for gas, so the total was 5,200 for a big van, all day.

I’d found Pahangog Falls on Google Maps, but we skipped that since it was supposedly inaccessible due to construction (locals told the driver). We went five places on the daytrip with her family: the Chocolate Hills, Pagsa Hilltop View Pool, the Tarsier Conservation Area (the one near Bilar and Loboc), Bilar man-made forest, and Sikatuna Mirror of the World. The one that definitely wasn’t worth it to me was the pool: the water wasn’t even clean. It wasn’t really a business, just a private home that sometimes opened their pool to others, which I’d found on Google Maps, and thought her young siblings would like. I also found Mirror to be disappointing; it’s basically Instagrammable famous monument from around the world, like the leaning tower of Pisa. I found the other three to be worth the short visits, with Bilar (though just a short picture stop in a nice place) and perhaps the Tarsiers exceeding my low expectations. BP liked the Chocolate Hills and the view from Pagsa best. I had Siopao, perhaps my favorite Filipino food, at Mirror, and it was pretty good (I'm a foodie, so I'll comment a lot on food in this report). Her family seemed bored or tired by the time we were at Mirror waiting for sunset (it’s supposed to be prettiest then), so I don’t think they got that much out of this trip. I spent 13,550 pesos ($244) on the day (including groceries). In retrospect, I should have just taken them all out to a nice dinner and saved some money, though that would still require me to rent a van for the evening.

BP and I had dinner at chain Mang Inasal. I’d liked their Palabok in 2019, but this time it was awful: drowning in sauce. BP liked their chicken, but I don’t like messy food. We also got some empanadas, which I didn’t think were particularly good. Trying lots of restaurants was among the main things I wanted to do on this trip, and some of that was street and fast food.

The day after I took BP’s family on the van tour of Bohol was my fifth day in the Philippines, of about a month I’d be there. That day, we did some errands and relaxed, as we’d be setting off on our travel together the next day.

We went to BQ Mall in downtown Tagbilaran (TagB, they call it) and found a travel stall to get an OceanJet ferry ticket to Siquijor. The mall was hot, they didn't take credit cards, and it took a while to book our ticket. They also charged a fee, and we later learned that it was a bit cheaper to book online (so do it the easy way and use Barkota.com).

We went shopping for BP at Alturas department store downtown, her favorite mall. She needed luggage for travel so we got her a carry-on for $5x. I also got her some new Nikes (after she showed me that the soles were coming off her old shoes) and other clothes for $5x.

I track my finances online and like to take travel notes (like these), but sometimes on this trip I was sloppy, e.g. not keeping receipts and forgetting what I’d done before taking notes. If you don’t have time to take travel notes, it’s good to keep receipts as reminders of dates, places, and prices, or take pictures of receipts and menu items.

I like/need to have Kleenex (acid reflux) and paper towels with me, and I kept both in my luggage on this trip. I found that Sanicare 3-ply Kleenex are excellent, perhaps better than the ones I get in the US. Sanicare paper towels are better than the other brand I tried as well, but still not as good as my US ones.

I saw lots of signage for PayMaya, e.g. that it’s accepted for payment in stores. It seems to be catching up with, or maybe surpassing, GCash.

We ate lunch at Gerarda’s, the location north of downtown. It seems to be one of the most popular upscale restaurants in town. I really liked my beef Kare-Kare (295 pesos; kare-kare is with peanut sauce, which I love, so that instantly became one of my favorite Filipino dishes). BP really liked her Bam-i noodles for 235. We didn’t like their halo-halo as much (195). The total was 825 pesos. They only had paper napkins, but it was otherwise an upscale setting. It was a good meal, and I’d definitely return. I saw that dinners for 10 were about 3,640 pesos there, which seems like a terrific value. In retrospect, we should have just taken her family out to dinner someplace like that instead of spending so much more on groceries and the daytrip, which they didn’t even like that much (but I still would have gotten them pasalubong and maybe some groceries; a different Filipina had advised me that bringing groceries to a family was a good way to impress them).

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That afternoon we swam in the Gabriella Hotel pool and I tried to teach BP how to swim. She used to swim, but had a bad experience and stopped. I didn’t make much progress with her, unfortunately.

That evening we ate at Kahiki Café in the Dao Diamond Hotel. I was considering staying at that hotel in the future, so I wanted to check it out, but we weren’t able to see a room since they were booked out. It’s northeast of town (like Hotel Gabriella, where we were staying), past Island City Mall (ICM; the biggest mall in town), so towards her family. The food was well prepared and the fries were outstanding, but some items weren’t available; we spent 655 pesos. The hotel is run by an organization for the deaf, and I believe their headquarters is next door. The staffers are mostly deaf, so we were able to speak to the front desk girl but had to write out our order for our waiter.

The next morning we checked out of our hotel and had lunch at to Oya-co Japanese restaurant near the ferry terminal. The place was tiny, with maybe a half a dozen seats at a counter. We had Buta Don, a chicken and rice dish, and futomaki, a cooked roll. The food was decent, but I wouldn’t return.

We got the OceanJet 3:20 ferry from Tabilaran Port to Siquijor, where we’d stay at Coco Grove Beach Resort, the most famous place on the island. Lite Ferries also does the route, but with fewer, later times. We made three payments in all: tickets (1,370 each for business class when bought at a travel agency), terminal fee (I’m not sure how much it was on the way to Siquijor, but it was 14 each on the return; we paid this at a different window after checking in and getting our seat assignment), and luggage (150 for me and 50 for BP, though we later learned that as business class customers we could have carried our luggage on and saved the fee). I’m glad I paid for business class rather than crowding in with the masses. There were no separate bathrooms for business class, however (though there was on a later ferry), and they were bad, with no toilet seat or toilet paper, but they had running water. For toilets in the Philippines I want my: Dude Wipes and moist towelettes, and also Kleenex.

We got a free pickup by Coco Grove in a van, and they had face towels for us, a nice touch.

 

I didn’t like Coco Grove Beach Resort in Siquijor. I hated the insects in our room, including cockroaches and a bug on my bed that looked like a tiny scorpion. They didn’t change our towels and sheets. The WiFi was usually bad. The smallest pool was dirty, the medium not too clean, and only the largest one was pretty clean. The exercise area was hopeless: outside and with non-working equipment. There weren’t enough outlets in our room. There was no work space in our room. There were no drawers. There wasn’t enough shelf space in the shower. They gave us no water in plastic bottles, though they gave us two big glass bottles a day. The service was generally high level, however.

I’d seen that Siquijor had a number of good restaurants, and the top of them was Dolce Amore, so that evening we paid a tuk tuk driver 500 pesos to take us to Dolce Amore restaurant and wait for us.

We just liked the place, so we ended up eating there three of four nights on our stay in Siquijor. I wouldn’t say the food was remarkable, but the desserts were really good, it had a nice covered outdoor setting, and we just wanted to keep on going back. It’s run by an Italian couple; the guy’s a pizza guy and the girl’s the chef. The best thing there was their desserts: Caprese, an almond, lemon, and white chocolate cake was best; tiramisu, was second (perhaps the best I’ve tasted); panna cotta with chocolate syrup topping, which we just tasted, was probably third; and chocolate torte, high quality but not a favorite, was probably fourth. We liked the Nutella shake better than the coconut, but I liked it less the second time; both were pretty good but I wouldn’t repeat them. I didn’t see any good appetizers except for a meat and cheese plate. I wouldn’t repeat the pizzas there. I didn’t love either pasta I had, but both were of high quality. I’d rank the bolognaise with pumpkin ravioli first followed by the tagliatelle with speck. I’d definitely return to this serious restaurant many times. They had good bathrooms, with real towels at the wash area outside, but at least once one of two bathrooms was out of toilet tissue and the other almost out. At least once I ran out of drinking water. Dolce Amore also has rooms, so I’d consider staying there on a future trip.

The next day we went snorkeling right off the beach at Coco Grove (Tubod Marine Sanctuary is right there), the first time snorkeling for both of us. The guide had a float we could hold onto (which BP needed, and I liked). We went for an hour or so. It was well worth it. We saw many fish including a Clownfish (Nemo), blue starfish, sea urchins, and one giant turtle (but not close up). It was 400 pesos for the guide and fee for the marine sanctuary (paid in cash) plus 300 for equipment rental (billed to our room, as were most things). This was BP’s favorite thing we did on the trip, and probably mine too.

That evening we ate at Cockatoo Restaurant, another of the highly-rated restaurants on Siquijor. We had a good steak, substituting poutine for frites. The dessert was weak. We also had pineapple juice, and it came to 1,020 pesos (BP is tiny, so she generally just shares off my plate, which saves money but makes buffets a poor value). The bathroom was weak. The menu was fairly limited. I didn’t really enjoy the place. After that, we just kept on going to Dolce Amore every evening for dinner.

I arrived on July 9, and we’re up to the 16th now, Saturday.

We hired a Coco Grove tuk tuk driver to take us to Cambugahay Falls and a few other places. Coco Grove has their own Tuk Tuk company with four vehicles, plus they cars, boats, and vans. It cost us 1,200 pesos plus an extra 100 to run errands at the end of the trip. Coco Grove’s tuk tuk was price competitive with the driver we’d hired the previous night, who offered to take us around for a whole day for 1,800. We stopped at the old Balete tree (not worth the stop, IMO), a place where we could get pictures on a witch’s broom that looked like we were flying (cool pictures and it was free, so worth the few minutes stop), and Lazi church (nothing special, so maybe not worth the few minutes). The falls was more interesting. They’re basically a few levels of shallow river to wade in, with some small falls between them. We hired a lifeguard, which isn’t necessary but was helpful: he took pictures, kept our stuff, told us where we could go safely, and swam BP to shore when she jumped from a swing into the water. They say you can Donate what you want to the lifeguards, but he seemed nonplussed with our 100 pesos at the end (BP knows I’m careful with my money), though he didn’t say anything. Our visit ended when there was shouting, everyone was told to get out of the water, and the water flow increased, though not dangerously (a small flash flood). BP said at the time that the falls was her favorite thing on the trip so far, but I wasn’t excited by it. It was good to hire our own Tuk Tuk driver, and he was helpful.

Later we did our errands at a store that was just Coco Grove’s side of central San Juan town. Anyone that’s traveled in the Philippines knows the regular errands are getting bottled water and going to the ATM (plus for me getting Kleenex/paper towels).

One hint up I picked up on the forums is to get 9,900 pesos rather than 10K at the ATM so you have some small bills (and the standard advice is to spend your big bills when you can to avoid hearing “no change, sir” when you try to present a big bill). I started using Charles Schwab Bank years ago because they’re good overseas: no foreign currency fees and all your ATM fees are rebated. I use credit cards with no foreign currency fees for everything I can, for the cash back and recordkeeping. My top ones are my Costco Visa from Citi, which offers 3% cash back on travel and restaurants; and a Capital One card that offers 1.5% cash back on everything.

We went to Better Paliton Beach before sunset, at the recommendation of a European/Filipina couple we’d met at Coco Grove. They told us it was better than the famous Paliton Beach (you can find both on Google Maps). It was bustling, with lots of little restaurants selling food and people catering to tourists wanting cool pictures. The most interesting picture opportunities were a swing hanging from a tree and a nearly-horizontal tree that you could climb up on. We got pictures with BP on those two, plus in front of a heart and a sandcastle. The beach itself seemed decent, but what I’d want, if I’m going to spend long on a beach, is an umbrella with beach chairs or a cabana, and I didn’t see them. The famous sunset didn’t look particularly good this evening.

That evening we went to Dolce Amore for dinner as usual, hiring a trike driver to wait for us. At one of those meals, BP didn’t want to share my food so the chef made her a plate of two fruits.

Later we stopped by the weekly show (it was a Saturday) at Coco Grove’s Salamandas restaurant to see the fire dancers. It was worthwhile to see them, but I’m glad we didn’t pay for the dinner to see the show, since we could just walk up and watch it.

The next day we did Coco Grove’s Apo (short A pronunciation) Island day trip. That’s a famous diving/snorkeling destination. It was over an hour of travel time each way, and the day went from 8 AM – 4 PM. We saw many turtles, and it was BP’s new favorite experience of the trip because of that. For seeing fish close up, however, Tubod Marine Sanctuary, right off the beach at Coco Grove, was better IMO. The scenery at Apo was beautiful too. We snorkeled twice and had lunch. The trip was well worth it. It wasn’t a high-end experience, however. On the boat trip over (Coco Grove’s own ship) there was a loud group that wasn’t staying at the hotel, and the bathroom was poor (with a pail to flush the toilet, but at least it had toilet tissue). We had to eat lunch at our seats. The food was only fair, but I liked the beef tapa. So it wasn’t the luxury yacht trip I’d been expecting from the top resort on Siquijor. They offered me beer after the diving. It was over 2,750 pesos each. Still well worthwhile, overall.

I’ve said that the service at Coco Grove was good, and one example was their friendly social director. She greeted us when we checked in, and we told her then we’d probably want to go on the Apo Island trip. On a later day she found us after breakfast in the grounds, greeted us by name, and asked us about the trip again.

Coco Grove did some laundry for us for 885 pesos. PB thought that would have been 2-300 pesos at a local laundry. It took a day, because apparently they dry them outside, not with an electric dryer.

We ate every breakfast and one lunch at Coco Grove’s Salamandas restaurant. The quality was average. The lunch was 645 pesos. It seemed slightly more expensive than the top restaurants we ate in elsewhere.

Siquijor was near the top of my list of places I wanted to visit on this trip, since I’ve seen more than one person on the forums say it’s one of the best places in the Philippines. I didn’t understand why from this visit, however, and BP felt the same. I think you’d have to visit for longer, get outside the resort more, rent a scooter, and get to know the place better to really see how you like it. I may give it that second chance someday, but we’d stay elsewhere on that trip.

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James Bond

To Alona Beach, Panglao

July 18, Monday:

Coco Grove had taken our ferry tickets when we arrived there and now arranged free transportation back to the port for us, in a hotel van, and saving us the trouble of paying our terminal fee (it was added to our final hotel bill). When we went to check our luggage in the ferry port we were told business class passengers could bring their luggage onboard. We carried our own luggage up to business class, but I saw someone else’s luggage carried up, so perhaps a staffer could have helped us or we could have tipped someone.

When we arrived in Tagbilaran port, they wanted 1,000 pesos for a van to Alona. I offered 800 and they accepted.

When we got to Oasis Resort it was before check-in time, so we left our luggage there and went to Sicily Italian restaurant in Dauis, in the south middle of Panglao. It was a slow, uncomfortable ride in the trike. I vowed to take tuk tuks when they’re available in the future (at least for long rides), since they seem faster and more comfortable.

My meal at Sicily Italian restaurant was pretty good. We started with a traditional prawn cocktail, with lettuce and Rose Marie sauce (420). It’s one of my favorite dishes and was a competent version. My main was mushroom risotto (480), tasty, but not something I’d repeat. We finished with chocolate mousse (240), an excellent-to-outstanding version. It came to 1,140 (BP sharing all my food). It seems to be a high-level restaurant, and I’d like to go again.

Trying to get back, I asked our waitress if we could get a trike outside, and she said yes. We tried for quite a while, but couldn’t get one. Eventually, I went inside and asked for help, and someone else offered to call a tuk tuk for us from Panglao. We paid 300 for the trike. Sicily is kind of in the middle of nowhere, so you’ll want to have transportation wait for you.

Oasis Resort is possibly the best-located hotel on Alona Beach, in the center of it at the foot of the main road to the beach. They have a bar and diving center that opens right onto the beach. It has nice showers and bathrooms as you leave the beach. It’s bungalows in pretty gardens, and has two small pools and a massage area. They had excellent calamansi juice on our arrival. In our room, one bulb wasn’t working. The safe didn’t work properly and the manager later gave us the key. We didn’t get our requested single bed, but two separate ones, but they pushed them together for us upon request. The bar, just off the beach, has an extensive list of classic cocktails and makes their juices to order. I didn’t love my Mai Tai, and it didn’t convert BP to a cocktail fan either (she doesn’t like to drink). Breakfast is fair. The shower head should be higher or adjustable, and the temperature was too variable. I saw one cockroach on a curtain, and lots of small crawling fleas that didn’t bother me too much. They change the sheets and towels every two days. Internet is good, though they make you get codes per device that only last two to three days. There was a desk to work at, and some closet space to hang things in, but not regular drawers.

We walked the length of Alona Beach. We found it to be a narrow, busy, dirty beach. It’s especially dilapidated, with abandoned buildings, on the west end. The east end has Henann resort, so it’s the only upscale part. Amorita, east of Henann, is also high end but doesn’t seem to have a beach. Oasis is at the center of the beach, with its bar and dive center right on the beach, and off the main road into the small business district. There are bars, restaurants, and resorts all along Alona Beach. We were approached by people selling tours, and got a couple of phone numbers for island-hopping operators. We also had some food from vendors on the beach, including kwek kwek, fried quail eggs coated in orange flour, which just tasted like eggs to me. They were on my list of street foods to try. The street food I most wanted to try, dirty ice cream, we didn’t manage to find on this trip.

Personally, I wouldn’t come to Alona for the beach or scene. If I came back, it would be just as a base for island hopping or eating at the good restaurants in the area.

We went to dinner at Garlic ‘n lemon, a well-reviewed nearby place, but our experience wasn’t so good. I ate most of my too-spicy chicken with hard bits in it then got up to leave. The owner asked how things were and I said my dish was too spicy so he gave me 50 back and I only ended up spending 300.

We were still hungry so we had more food at Jollibee, as BP really wanted chicken (she wants rice constantly, and wants chicken and snack foods regularly). I liked her chicken with gravy and my spaghetti with sausage pieces in it. My old favorite peach mango pie was too hot to eat right away, so it’s best to get it for takeout.

July 19, Tuesday:

We decided to stay two more nights in Oasis, as BP didn’t want to move (we had a paid reservation at the cheap Alona Pawikan, not near the beach, but canceled it and ate the cost). We had to change rooms, however. Oasis charged us 3,420 pesos/night, about $61, versus $51 all in from Agoda for the first night.

We visited Alona Pawikan that morning when we went for a run (I think the only time we tried to run on this trip). It was rather far from things and down a muddy road, as it rained last night. Their well-known bar seems to specialize in beers and liquors, not cocktails (I prefer the latter).

During the morning, before it gets hot around noon, working on our computers in Oasis's restaurant overlooking the beach was enjoyable.

We had lunch in A Tavola, a short trike ride, or even walk, up Alona Beach Road then Panglao Island Circumferential Road. It wasn’t a great experience. Among other things, our waitress was hard to communicate with and got our order wrong. They didn’t take the wrong item off the bill, as would be normal in the US. Bottled water, a sprite, a mango shake, a shrimp salad, a pizza, and tiramisu came to 1,310.

In our new room at Oasis there were no outlets near the head of the bed, so we got an extension cord. The safe didn’t work in this room either, and they never came to fix it. It had fewer bugs than the other room. The lack of a shower curtain made the bath mat wet, the shower head didn’t work well, and variable shower temperature was still a problem. The refrigerator trays are wet with significant accumulated water. They turned off our AC when making up the room.

BP arranged a private island-hopping tour (to Balicasag and Virgin Islands) for us the next day with someone we’d met the previous day on the beach. With all the fees it should be 4,030.

Oasis Resort says they’ll make you sandwiches instead of the included breakfast if you’re leaving early, so we arranged that the night before our island hopping. They included juices too.

We booked an OceanJet ferry from Tagbilaran to Cebu City online. BP said Barkota was cheaper than 12go.asia, and I was able to pay with my credit card. Then BP forwarded the email to someone in the hotel office and they printed our tickets for us.

We went to Bougainvillea Spanish Restaurant, which is very nearby. It was perhaps my best meal so far in the Philippines, and the best value. We got three gourmet courses for only 730 pesos. Our starter of albondigas con sepia, meatballs, was good, our main of pulpo parmentiere, grilled octopus, was excellent, and our dessert of churros with chocolate sauce was excellent. The only disappointment was the bathroom, in a dark area dozens of yards away from the restaurant, including walking on a board over a puddle. I’d definitely go to this restaurant again, frequently. It’s only open for dinner.

July 20, Wednesday:

I was feeling bad so we cancelled the island-hopping tour. Unfortunately, I got sick sometimes on this trip, when I haven’t gotten sick at home in years. Some of it may have been related to my acid reflux, with more heat than I’m used to and lacking the raised bed head I have at home, but there were some other things as well. The tour marketer wanted 500 pesos compensation for our cancellation and I agreed to it. The usual stops on these tours were Balicasag and Virgin Islands, but Virgin has now been mostly closed to tourists, after getting bad publicity about overcharging tourists for seafood. You aren’t even supposed to snorkel there any more, and the vendors are banned. I may want to visit Alona again to try snorkeling at Balicasag. BP also wanted to see dolphins on an island hopping trip. Apparently you need to go out early to see them, and it’s not guaranteed you’ll see any. Pamilacan Island, reached from the main island of Bohol, is also known for dolphin watching.

We looked at Cebu City hotels and booked Quest for our first two nights, for its reasonable price and good location. They wanted a lot for breakfast, however (about 1K pesos for two), so we didn’t pay for a room with it included (in retrospect, that was probably a mistake). I paid $ 55.62/night, all fees included.

We went to Wonderland Thai restaurant. We agreed on a 50 peso tuk tuk fee, but the driver asked for 100 after we arrived so BP asked for 20 more for him. I encouraged her not to give in to those guys again. We had three courses, two juices, and a serving of rice for 1,060. I didn’t love the food, however. They didn’t have satay, so I wasn’t able to show BP one of my favorite dishes. When you ask for a glass of water in a restaurant, they call it service water in the Philippines.

I don’t like the taste of the purified water in the Philippines. Later, we found some spring water and it was only about 40% more expensive than purified. We ended up favoring RE FRESH followed by Le Minerale.

We booked a car to tomorrow’s ferry at the hotel’s front desk. It was 950 pesos. They’ll pick us up at 2 PM for a 3:20 ferry. Google says it’s 31 minutes to the ferry port. We’ll check out by noon, get some lunch, then come back to the hotel for our luggage and the car.

I don’t think there are any real grocery stores near Alona Beach, just small stores.

We ate dinner at Bougainvillea again, but it was a bad experience. There was a loud group inside, and the inside of the restaurant doesn’t damp sound. BP and I could barely talk. My gambas appetizer was pleasant but much smaller than the meatballs yesterday. I tried the pulpo again, but didn’t like it much this time. They never came to take our dessert order. Eventually, we just paid and left. The staff seemed to be overwhelmed, so I’d only visit here when it’s less busy (but I do hope to try it again someday). We went to Dunkin Donuts afterwards to get some dessert (I didn’t like it, but they have Krispy Kreme in the Philippines too).

July 21, Thursday:

After checking out of Oasis, we paid a tuk tuk driver 500 pesos to take us to Sicily restaurant and wait for us (BP negotiated the price down from a request of 600). Our calamari seemed average (I’d prefer a red sauce to the aioli they provided). Our pork belly special main course was pleasant, but not something I’d order again, and probably too large and rich for this hot day. Our dessert of chocolate torte was good. I thought the chocolate mousse we had previously was even better, but BP preferred this dessert. I’d like to return to this restaurant. It took us well under two hours from leaving our hotel to getting back to it.

Booking our driver through the Oasis was convenient, e.g. he was waiting for us when we checked out and Oasis had already paid for his pass to access the ferry port with a vehicle.

We stayed in 13 hotels on this trip, and we ended up ranking Oasis 8th and 11th (mine and her ratings, out of 13 hotels). The others we’ve stayed in so far: Belmont 4th/2nd, Gabriella in TagB 13th/13th, and Coco Grove 11th/8th.

Top restaurants so far, probably: Dolce Amore, Sicily, Gerarda’s, and Bougainvillea (and Jollibee to BP, of course 😄, and maybe both Belmont restaurants).

To Cebu City

At Tagbilaran port: I think when you check in and get your seat assigned is when you're supposed to get the business class stickers for your luggage, but we didn't get them in Tagbilaran either time. We still had our business class stickers affixed from last time and skipped checking baggage. After checking in you go to the rightmost window to pay your port fee. Then you pay for checked baggage, or skip it, as we did.

One of the things you find in Filipino bathrooms: the ferry port bathroom had toilet paper near the entrance to the bathroom, but not in the stalls.

The waiting area was air conditioned and crowded: I suspect late arrivers had to stand. There weren’t boarding announcements this time, so we had to ask guards to be sure which ferry was boarding. The ferry left 1:12 after its scheduled 3:20 departure, and took about two hours to get to Cebu City.

When we got back to Bohol island, and later Cebu, we had to use masks again. I’d enjoyed not using them in Panglao and Siquijor.

Still sick: my nose was running terribly this day and I went through a lot of Kleenex.

When we got off the ferry in Cebu City we ignored the people trying to sell us expensive transportation and kept following the crowd and walking straight, and asking guards where the taxis were, till we reached taxis on the street. It cost us about 134 pesos to reach Quest Hotel in a metered taxi, far less than the people bothering us earlier had wanted (they started at 400 pesos and went down). One of them put our luggage in our taxi’s trunk and asked for a tip, but we declined the request. I was pretty determined not to have people take advantage of me as a “rich foreigner.”

Check-in at Quest Hotel was horrible. There was a ridiculously-long wait (maybe a half hour?), then they quoted us a price that was about 2/3 higher than Agoda has given us. BP showed him the Agoda email and they said reservations had made a mistake and honored our quote. Maybe I’d prefer to pay through Agoda in the future, however. Quest said I couldn’t charge things to my room unless I left my credit card and they took a daily deposit, which I declined. It was nicer to be able to bill things to my room in Oasis, and as I was used to.

Internet in our room didn’t work, and therefore the internet TV. We got it fixed the next day. Then, we didn’t even need the WiFi passwords we were given: it was an open network. My MacBook said it was an unsecured network, however, so we weren’t able to log into Facebook from our laptops (smartphones were fine) until we used a VPN. Our Kindles couldn’t connect to it (I’m a Kindle ereader user, and I brought her one). The internet was fast.

The shower was the best of the trip so far. When trying to fully close the curtain, a rod broke off, but we were able to pull the other curtain over far enough. When we returned to our cleaned room, the door wasn’t properly closed (it’s a bit hard to open/close) and they’d partially removed our key card from its holder so the electricity (and our AC) was off (seems common in the Philippines, but I hate it). We complained about the door not being closed, but it recurred the next day. There are no sheets, only a heavy blanket in the room (another common Phils thing I dislike). There’s only one bedside outlet, out of two bedside stands, though plenty of outlets elsewhere. Despite the major problems with Quest, I was still happy to be in a first-world-caliber hotel room, the best room of our trip so far.

Quest’s and Ayala Center Cebu’s restaurants closed at 9 PM, so we ate at McDonald's. I didn’t like it. Jollibee is better.

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James Bond

July 22, Friday:

We at our breakfast and lunch in Quest’s restaurant, Puso. We got the buffet for 520 pesos each for breakfast. That’s after a 20% discount for guests (it only applies to the buffet, not a la carte). It was too noisy, crowded, they were out of too many items, so we preferred the Belmont breakfast buffet. I discovered some things I liked, though: Chicken Tocino (which became a breakfast standard for me), round German donuts, and I liked the French toast with blueberry topping a lot. We did a la carte for lunch once there but I’d stick to their buffets, or, better yet, eat at other restaurants.

Quest Hotel’s advantages are that it’s right next to Ayala Center Cebu and it’s reasonably priced. Ayala Center Cebu seems to be foreigner/expat central in Cebu City, and it’s pretty centrally located. Between breakfast and lunch we went to Ayala, including shopping in Metro’s basement supermarket. It was a pretty big store but had very long checkout lines, so I waited in Bo’s Coffee while BP paid with her debit card. Filipino grocery stores are a lot more crowded than what I’m used to in the US.

I’m still sick today, with enough congestion that it’s hard to breathe.

In the evening we went to dinner at Watami in Ayala. It wasn’t as nice as I remembered from 2019, for food or setting, so I won’t go again.

We tried to go to Abaca Baking Company for dessert and a fruit shake. They had a line of people waiting to get half-off baked goods in their closing hour (8-9), however, so we couldn’t eat there. They seem to serve a lot of American breakfast food.

Instead, we went to Gelatissimo Café for a couple of desserts and Royal orange sodas. I didn’t much like it.

I found it hard to navigate Ayala, but I think we eventually figured things out. I wanted to get to know Cebu City (including Ayala) and Tagbilaran somewhat, as I figured I might be going there regularly I the future if things worked out with BP. So I wanted to get to know the main malls, try multiple hotels, etc. in both those places.

We walked around to find the other grocery store in Ayala Center Cebu, The Marketplace. It’s in the far southeast corner of Ayala (the entrance is actually on the east side). It’s easier to find it from the outside: it was quite an experience trying to find it from inside. It seemed to be an upscale, uncrowded (at almost closing time, anyway) place, where BP thought the prices of some goods were lower than we’d paid elsewhere. If I want quality produce or foreign brands, it may be the place to go to. It’s the only place that I saw Sanicare Kleenex refills, for example. From inside, you’d need to go a few floors down into the basement via escalators and cross the parking garage.

So The Terraces stretches along the north side of Ayala. The Seda hotel is on the northeast side, a short walk through a play area to The Terraces. Rustan’s, a very upscale department store we briefly toured, is on the southeast (or perhaps entire east) side, with The Marketplace on the far east of it. Metro, with its supermarket, is on the southwest. The atrium is on the east side near The Terraces, south of it. There’s a cinema and food court, with a CNT Lechon outlet (repubable outlet for Cebu’s most famous food), on the top floor of the atrium.

We also discovered a shortcut from Quest to Ayala. Just go slightly south on the street outside, then cross to the bus (PUV) terminal. Inside, there’s a walkway down. It lets out near Ayala’s west entrance, which enters on L2 of the mall. Yes, knowing all these navigational things for the future will be useful: like I said, it was hard to find our way around Ayala Center Cebu.

When we got back to the hotel I booked another night at Quest. I haven’t found a cheaper way to book than my usual method: a TripAdvisor comparison, which almost always shows Agoda as the cheapest.

July 23, Saturday:

We walked to Harold’s Hotel, which I was considering trying next, to check it out. I’d much prefer to cab it because of the heat.

On the way to Harold’s I tried a pan de coco (coconut) for 8 pesos at Casilda’s bakery, on the corner south of Harolds. I remembered liking pan de coco when I was last in the Philippines, but this was nothing special.

We checked a room at Harold’s (large and we liked it), the roof deck, and fitness center (too small, with no working elliptical), then took a cab to Ayala for 67 pesos.

We ate lunch at Abaca bakery in Ayala, which we’d tried to go to before. My Benedict with ham was large (two open-faced sandwiches) and good, and pretty healthy as it came with green beans, a salad, and fried potatoes. We had a pretty good New York cheesecake for dessert. With a mango juice it came to 935 pesos. It’s not cheap, but I’m glad I found Abaca and may return for future meals.

We tried the pool at Quest. It was pretty good, though they make you sign in and out and give back the towels when you leave. It may have been more fun if I’d given the hotel my credit card and we could have gotten food or drink at the swim-up bar.

Next we tried the fitness center. When we arrived another guy was leaving, complaining that no one had emptied the trash and such in a while. Apparently he complained about it, because they did so when we were working out there. 4 of 6 cardio machines weren’t working, but that still left a working elliptical, so it was ok with me. They also had a 10-station strength machine and free weights to do my squats, so I can do a full workout there, and was satisfied.

After looking at a few menus in Ayala we went to Italianni’s for dinner. I liked their minestrone more than expected: it was a bowl of tasty, healthy vegetables, a relief as I haven’t been getting as many vegetables as I’d like lately (I like to eat healthy, and exercise daily in the US). I got a two-course set menu for 650, a pretty good value; minestrone is one of the options for it. For my main, I got chicken parmigiana with pasta, which was about average, so decent. I also got a side of mixed vegetables, which was delicious: it tasted meaty, like it was cooked in a meat stock or something. I’d probably get it again: though it was small and cost 75 pesos. I also got a Cosmopolitan for 295 pesos and BP got garlic rice for 95, which seems very expensive. We got their tartufo dessert, a chocolate ice cream cake. It was better than I expected, but very expensive at 480 pesos. In all, it came to 1,595 pesos, which I think is our most expensive meal so far (it ended up the fifth-most-expensive of the trip, at $28.45). If you get the set menu and skip the cocktail and tartufo, however, it would have been pretty good value, taste, and health. I think Italianni’s is a decent backup option for competently-executed normal food, so I’ll keep it in my back pocket to possibly return.

We returned to Quest and I have a few final complaints. The AC was dripping on the floor when we got back. We turned it off, then on again a few minutes later, and the problem didn’t recur. In the morning there was a huge cockroach in the shower. I’d only seen one small fly there before then. The towels smell like smoke and make me smell like smoke. There were loud beeps coming from the hall periodically.

What is it with insects in the hotels in the Philippines? Did they ban insecticide during the pandemic or something? I don’t remember having a problem with insects in 2019.

I booked two nights at Harold’s on Agoda next, costing $41/night.

We ended up ranking Quest 5th (me) and 4th (her) out of the 13 hotels we stayed in. We had a lot of issues there, but I'd like to try it again and hope we were luckier... and it's got that great location across from Ayala. If there's a better value near Ayala, I'd like to know about it, but it doesn't look like there is, based on the online reviews/prices.

July 24, Sunday:

Our last breakfast buffet at Quest Hotel was quieter on a Sunday so I liked it more. I discovered champorado, a chocolate rice porridge that’s a Filipino comfort food, and liked it. There was also an excellent cheese.

We had to check out of Quest by 11 AM, earlier than at most places. Checkout was quick, and they got us a taxi to the next hotel we were trying, Harold’s.

The taxi driver said it was a short trip and we should give him whatever we wanted. He didn’t turn on the meter. We gave him 70 pesos because that’s what we’d given the taxi driver the previous day to go from Harold’s to Ayala. I should insist on the meter in most situations, however.

Harold’s has a 3 PM checking time, and we were there shortly after 11. They asked if I wanted an early checkin, but I didn’t want to pay the 1K pesos. They managed to get us into our room in a few minutes, however.

The room was huge, and seemed like a big upgrade over Quest. The WiFi had poor quality sometimes, and required us to sign back in after being off it for an extended time, so eventually I went to using my smartphone’s hotspot. The toilet didn’t flush right, but they sent a guy to fix it quickly. The humidity is really high unless I put the heat pump on dry mode.

We couldn’t access floor three for the fitness center, so we went to the lobby. The bellboy told us our card wouldn’t access floors other than our own, the lobby, and the roof deck, and we’d have to go down to the lobby to get his help every time we wanted to go to the gym. A foreign couple got in the elevator then, however, and told us they had the same problem and got their card programmed to access the fitness center floor. We then did so as well, but had to do it two more times during our stay when we extended or changed rooms: they never managed to get it right!

Two out of three cardio machines in the exercise room weren’t working, but I did fine on the remaining treadmill.

I’d found an event called Aqua Dining at Cebu Ocean Park somewhere. One wall of the dining room is a huge aquarium and the multi-course menus looked very sophisticated (e.g. foams, like molecular gastronomy). It happens Friday-Sunday evenings, if I remember correctly. I booked us a table.

I tried using Grab to get to Cebu Ocean Park, but it would have been slow to get one, so the bellboy got us a taxi. It cost 176 pesos, versus the 268 a Grab would have cost.

Aqua Dining wouldn’t let BP share my dinner, so I got five courses for 1,700 pesos (purchased online in advance) and BP got three for 1,200 (after we found out she couldn't share and they wouldn't let her order off the kids menu). The food wasn’t especially good, it was too dim to see the food well, and eating with a view into the aquarium was nice, but probably didn’t live up to expectations. I wouldn’t pay for Aqua Dining again. It was the most expensive meal of the trip, at $51.72.

Walking into Aqua Dining through the tunnels under the aquarium was one of my best experiences of the trip, however. This was an amazing surprise to me. You could see sharks overhead a few feet away, for example. I think expectations matter a lot: things that surprise you positively can feel great, while those that you have high expectations of can disappoint.

I’m not sure if we should go to Cebu Ocean Park again, as I suspect we’ve already seen the best part.

Returning from Aqua Dining, there weren’t taxis outside Cebu Ocean Park. The guard told us to go to SM Seaside, a short walk away. There, a guard told us there was a taxi waiting area. We found it in the middle of SM Seaside (it’s an oval). The wait was really long, however. I saw a Grab pickup spot sign, so I went there and used Grab. It didn’t take long, and it cost us 267 pesos. It was worth it (about 90 pesos more than a taxi) to avoid the wait, and I suspect they’re better cars too, since we get to rate them. I think my strategy in Cebu City will be to use cheaper taxis when they’re available and more expensive Grabs when I can’t get a taxi.

July 25, Monday:

There were still problems with high humidity in the room unless we set the temperature low. I brought a thermometer with me which also shows humidity). I asked them to fix it, but they never did.

They add a 10% service charge to their buffet price, hiding the true cost, so it came to 531 pesos each, slightly more than we paid in Quest. It was a decent buffet, quieter than Quest but with less enjoyable food than the Belmont. I had some of what they called hot chocolate and BP thought was sikwate (a regional drink I wanted to try). It was a rich, thick cocoa-ey (more so than chocolatey) drink. It grew on me.

We taxied to and from The Marketplace in Ayala (the more upscale of the two grocery stores there), a quick ride for about 69 pesos. It was uncrowded as before (a nice contrast with the usual Filipino grocery stores), and checkout was pretty quick. We found RE FRESH mineral water, which became our favorite, and a refill for Sanicare Kleenex (just the Kleenex, no box, which we hadn’t seen elsewhere). After we came out we saw there was taxi stand nearby. We stood there for a while, then noticed someone being dropped off behind us at the entrance, so we got their taxi instead.

They had good fries near our hotel at Papa V Good Food, which served middle-eastern food, but I probably wouldn’t return.

I thought Harolds was an amazing value and I extended for a night. We stayed in our current room type, Deluxe, with breakfast this time, for $45/night, before coupons and Agoda cash ($40 after). I could have gotten a one-bedroom suite for $52/night, which is the really amazing value (in retrospect, I should have gone for the suite at that price).

We worked out again at Harolds. They seemed to have the same one towel there that we’d used last time. There wasn’t even a sign on the nonworking cycle saying it wasn’t working, despite me reporting it before. I couldn’t figure out some of the strength exercises on their all-in-one machine, and the machine seemed to break or get stuck partway through a workout. The lights are too dim. So the fitness center is a disaster and should be gutted, but the working treadmill and free weights allow you to get in some exercise.

We went to dinner on Harolds roof deck. The view of the lights of Cebu at night is nice, and it was uncrowded. I got the salmon with vegetables and mashed potatoes (about 815 pesos). It was pretty well executed. I also got a pina colada, which was on the watery side (about 295 pesos; I think this or another pina colada was the only cocktail that BP liked). We finished with cheesecake topped with blueberries, about average, not as good as Abaca. We spent a total of 1,374 pesos, with the 10% service charge they include. Service was solicitous, including bringing flashlights for us to read our menus (it was dark) and holding the elevator at the top floor for us. I enjoyed myself, but our next meal there wasn’t as good.

After that we weren’t quite full so we walked to Casilda’s bakery on the corner for a few snacks. I continue to think that Filipino bakeries are a remarkable value. BP got a hot dog roll for 12 pesos, a puto cheese for 8, and I got a siopao for 35. There was a bone in the siopao and the filling was slightly spicy, but it’s still one of my favorite Filipino foods and I’ll keep on trying it.

We asked to see a one-bedroom suite at Harolds. It had a work area, which is what I wanted to verify. It also had a dining table and separate shower and bath.

July 26, Tuesday:

The breakfast buffet has a limited selection, but I liked the bread pudding and today’s ham and cheese omelet.

We walked to Lala Laundry Shop. I wished we’d cabbed it, even though it was just 600 meters away and before 10 AM in the morning. Lala charged us 210 pesos and had the laundry done after lunch. We’d use them again.

We went to SM Seaside Mall. We located the office on the top floor where BP would have to go for her passport appointment. It was pretty much a normal large mall (the 14th-largest mall in the world, and upscale), though it has some interesting things like ice skating, archery, and a bowling alley.

We ate lunch at Zubuchon, famous for their lechon, and Cebu lechon is the region’s most famous dish. Other than bugs at our first table (our waiter moved us), it was a good experience. We started with baked scallops, then boneless lechon with mixed vegetables and garlic rice, and got a calamansi juice. They had some nice-sounding desserts, but we intended to eat dessert elsewhere. I believe I spent about 1,000 pesos.

Mango and calamansi juices, when sweet, seem to be my favorites in the Philippines.

We ate dessert at Leona’s Cakes in the mall, an éclair and a cream puff, which I like and wanted BP to try. They were decent examples of their type.

Getting a taxi at the central area of the mall was easy this time, at around 3:30. It was rush hour, however (already at that time), so it was slow to get back to our laundry then Harolds, and cost 234.

When we got back we couldn’t get up to our room, as they hadn’t updated our key after we extended our stay.

We tried local Italian restaurant La Buona for dinner. It was expensive, with many appetizers around 600 pesos. I tried to save money with an insalata mista appetizer, which was supposedly a vegetable salad. It was just lettuce, tomato, onion, and carrot, for 250 pesos. I felt cheated. My main, about 550 pesos, was a nice gorgonzola pasta. To get enough to eat, I got BP to order something cheap: a shrimp soup for 150 pesos. It didn’t taste fresh to me. I asked them to take it away. At least they took it off the bill (the owner’s a foreigner, Italian, I believe). Nice quiet setting, but I felt like the restaurant was overpriced, the salad bordering on a scam.

We went to Harolds roof deck next to make sure I had enough to eat. I got the pork sisig for only 265 pesos, but we had to order rice separately, for 74 pesos. I don’t seem to like sisig. We sat in a dimmer part of the outdoor restaurant this time, but this time no one held a flashlight for us to read the menu or held the elevator for us when we were leaving. I don’t feel so good about the roof deck restaurant any more.

The hills over Cebu City

July 27, Wednesday:

We upgraded to a one-bedroom suite in Harolds for tonight. It cost $80. Yeah, I should have taken it earlier when it was cheaper, $52. I decided to go ahead with it, despite the high price, to see if it’s an option I want to use in the future when it’s reasonably priced.

Then we booked the next two nights at Citadines, which had really high Agoda ratings. Learn from my booking mistakes: The Agoda price was $127 with breakfast (for two nights). The lowest price on TA, however, was at Booking.com, $103 without breakfast. I decided to go without breakfast at Booking.com. In retrospect, that’s only $6/person/day for breakfast, so I should have gone for the breakfast (we pay about $10 for buffet breakfasts). It turned out that Booking.com wasn’t including the taxes, however. They were both exactly the same price, but Agoda added breakfast, so I should have taken the Agoda deal. I ended up paying $64/night. That was the second time I’ve made an error because I compared prices with versus without taxes.

We moved to our one-bedroom suite. It faced the main street and there was some street noise, so I wore earplugs for the first time in my trip. I discovered foam-rubber earplugs when I lived in midtown Manhattan after college, and have use them most of the time since to sleep since I like them so much. We loved our new suite, with its dining table, dedicated shower, and desk to work at. The humidity was also low, unlike our other room.

If we wanted a late checkout up till five PM, it would have cost us an extra 1K pesos.

We called Allan Castellano (09392651207) for a driver to visit a few of the sites in the hills overlooking Cebu. BP wanted to get pictures for social media and I wanted to see the views. Castellano gave us a rate of 3,500 pesos for 8 hours, including gas. BP compared a few others, and they were more expensive than Allan.

First we went to the Temple of Leah, basically a mausoleum/palace overlooking Cebu. It’s impressive, but they’re still working on it and it isn’t the finished museum it will be someday.

Soul Sierra was some beautiful gardens/paths in the hills that I found on a list of 100 Places to Visit in Cebu https://sugbo.ph/2019/100-places-to-visit-in-cebu/. It was BP’s second favorite of the view/picture places today.

La Vie in the Sky had excellent truffles, and some lesser sweets, along with their view. With a soda, we spent 450, 200 of which was paid as an admission fee applicable towards consumables.

Sirao Pictorial Garden was BP’s favorite, for good photo opportunities. They charged you to use a bad bathroom, however, 5 pesos for #1 and 10 pesos for #2.

These view/picture spots aren’t a big deal to me, but were interesting to visit. I’m glad I did them because BP had fun.

We stopped at Mak’s View restaurant for sikwate, a type of hot chocolate and one of the regional dishes I wanted to try. I don’t like sikwate, but the sticky rice and mango that came with it were pretty good, and the sunset was pretty too. It’s a simple place where you order from one of a few food vendors.

BP wanted to skip the view of the city lights from Tops at night (it’s the most famous of these viewpoints), since she was tired, so we did.

We had the driver go by The Marketplace so we could get some disposable plates and utensils. Then we went to Harolds, paid the driver, left our shopping with the bellboy, and walked south. We stopped at an unnamed carinderia and got some chop suey vegetables for 20 pesos (I sometimes need to make an effort to get healthy food in the Philippines). We went to Casilda’s bakery and got two desserts, a pine-apple pie (pretty good) and a brownie (I didn’t like it but BP did). We got half a half lechon manok (chicken; another local specialty I wanted to try) from Andok’s, two rices (I’d get three rices next time), and a soda. We ate it at the table in our suite. It was all pretty good, a good value, and healthy. I really liked having a dining table in our suite and eating locals’ food there.

Both of us ended up rating Harolds as our favorite hotel of the trip.

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James Bond

July 28, Thursday:

Harolds wanted five minutes for a room check before I left, which is a pain, though most hotels we stayed in did the same.

As I mentioned, I wanted to get to know Cebu City and Tagbilaran, since it’s possible I’ll be in those cities regularly in the future. More/cheaper international flights seem to go through Manila than Cebu City, which is unfortunate from my point of view, as Manila is more expensive and has worse traffic. We wanted to check out a few hotels in each of Cebu City and TagB, so we moved to our third hotel in Cebu City.

Citadines is near Osmena Circle. Its lobby is on the 9th floor of a building. There you’ll also find their pool, exercise room, launderette, and bathrooms. They don’t have a restaurant: there’s a buffet breakfast at an Abaca on the ground floor, from 6-10 AM (they only serve meals, not pastries, at this one, but there’s also an Abaca coffeeshop nearby). Our room’s kitchen facilities were impressive, with a smoothtop stove, rice cooker, etc. There’s somewhat of a small dining table, but only one chair plus a sofa next to it (and the sofa’s too far away to be convenient for eating on the table). The room also has USB-A outlets, which is unusual. The desk chair had one leg that was damaged; it was quickly replaced. They gave us a big container of water, rather than individual bottles, which I found to be a pain, but the water tasted pretty good. The AC didn’t want to reduce the temperature below 77-78 degrees. They cleaned the filters. It eventually went to normal temperatures.

We went to Pungko-pungko sa Fuente for lunch. Pungko-pungko is another famous local food: you eat fried food with your hands. When we went in, the several providers tried to get our business. BP picked one and selected various foods. He cut some of it up, and added some vinegar dipping sauce. We also got four puso (rice in coconut leaves) over two trips and Mountain Dews (which seems to be the only drink they have), plus they gave us plastic bags to put our hands in while we ate. Then we went over to a table. It wasn’t bad. I liked the lumpia, vegetables, and crab best. We spent 346 pesos. I’m glad I had the experience of this local classic.

I needed to extend my visa, since my 30 days expired one day before my flight. The day you needed your flight out and visa length went to one day different from each other during Covid, and I didn’t figure that out beforehand. My hotel recommended Grand Hope travel agency, nearby on Osmena Circle. They wanted to charge over 5K pesos. I said that sounded higher than I’d heard others offering. They reduced their fee from 1.5K to 1K pesos, so the total, with government fees, is 4,630. I could pick up my passport again three days later, on Monday. Later, when I looked at the government document they provided, it appeared the government fees were only 2,030 pesos, so I probably got taken.

I had to get cash to pay them and was able to take out 20K pesos at the ATM. I’d thought the limit everywhere was 10K, but some are higher than that.

On the way back we stopped in Robinson’s supermarket in the basement of the Citadines building. It isn’t as big as the grocery stores in Ayala Center Cebu. Still, it’s nice to have a grocery store in your basement.

Abaca coffeeshop didn’t have the cream puffs or cheesecake we’d seen at the one in Ayala, so we went just south to Bo’s Coffee for dessert. We got an iced artisanal chocolate drink (good), carrot cake (good to very good), and fair cheesecake with good blueberry topping. What’s with every place in the Philippines serving blueberry cheesecake?

I ran out of my Zeiss Lens Wipes, Googled them, amazingly found probably the only place that sells them in Cebu City at Ayala, and bought what was probably their last box of them.

We ate at Italianni's there again. I liked the minestrone as much as last time. Maybe I’ll go there and pay 220 pesos just for it sometimes, to get a bowl full of tasty vegetables. The 75 peso side dish of vegetables were small and tasty, but not terrific like last time. I preferred the chicken parmigiana last time to my salmon pasta this time.

We also got the last cream puff at Abaca in Ayala. BP thought it was a 7. Maybe I was too full (after the Italianni’s dinner), but I found it uninspiring, though competent. I’d wanted BP to try lots of my Western favorites, and Napoleons, eclairs, and cream puffs had been on the list, as well as cocktails and Champagne.

There were plenty of taxis outside The Terraces (part of Ayala) when we left at 8-something, so that appears to be the place to get them.

July 29, Friday:

Breakfast at Abaca’s buffet downstairs featured excessive covid theater: they sprayed our hands with alcohol and insisted we wear a glove on one hand. I thought the buffet was about average, but at 800 pesos it was far too expensive. I liked the chicken tocino (a favorite at Quest too), udon noodles, and ham.

BP really wanted to go to the zoo, Cebu Safari and Adventure Park. It’s Carmen, north of Cebu City. We hired another Allan Castellano driver. The van this time wasn’t as comfortable as the SUV last time, and this driver wasn’t interactive in English either. From 8 AM it took 1:45 to get there. He charged us 3,500 pesos, which was supposed to be for eight hours, but we weren’t charged any overage when we had the driver for over 9 hours

We also paid 2,700 for admission. Basic admission was 900 pesos each, but we went for Package A for 1,350 each, as we wanted to go ATV-ing. Alternatively we could have gone ziplining or on a sky bicycle, but I was too heavy for the ziplining and we were nervous about the sky bicycle. Our beginner ATV tour was fun, but only a few minutes log, so I felt scammed. The zoo seemed disorganized to me. For example, they moved us to certain areas at first, but I wasn’t told what was going on. Later, we could go wherever we wanted, but the transportation was opaque, so we just asked staffers for help. We didn’t get a map initially, but found one later. Certain areas just weren’t clearly labeled, e.g. the orangutan viewing area was in a restaurant, and there had been signs pointing in that direction, but none to show you where it was when you arrived. I don’t think the zoo was up to US standards, and it was mostly just really a hot day for me, but BP loved seeing all the animals. We also paid 1K pesos for overpriced food there (and we couldn’t even bring in water), so the total for the trip was 7,200 pesos.

When we returned, our room at Citadines hadn’t been cleaned. They said we had to request it. I’m not used the irregular cleaning I experienced at multiple places on this trip. Was that a covid thing? I asked them to text us after our room was cleaned. The room got cleaned, but they never texted us.

We went downstairs to dinner at Abaca. They were out of some things, and said we had to go to their nearby coffeehouse for dessert (this isn’t a full-service Abaca like the one in Ayala). The eggs Benedict was still good, but not really enough for a filling dinner for me, especially with BP eating part of it. They don’t have a bathroom, and pointed me to one outside that didn’t seem to have any toilet paper and was out of paper towels.

We went to Robinson’s in the basement to get some more food. We got a couple of Selecta Cornetto’s for dessert, an ice cream treat. These are BP’s favorite, and we’ve had them once before. She likes the cookies and cream one best. They’re quite good. For breakfast the next day, we also got two Dole juices and two chocolate milk drinks. Then we went to Julie’s Bakeshop (big chain) and got a few more things for breakfast. I also ate a Larabar to complete my dinner.

We decided to stay a day longer at Citadines, then head south to Simala and Oslob on Sunday. Citadines only had twin rooms left, but it included breakfast this time. I booked it for $62.

July 30, Saturday:

We had breakfast at the little table in our studio at Citadines. Unfortunately, there’s only one chair and you can’t move the table closer to the sofa nearby. We used plates and utensils from our kitchenette. BP cut up an apple and we heated the pastries in the microwave. The pastries I liked best from Julie’s were the hopia with ube (there’s also a hopia with pork) followed by fig. I’d eat those two again, especially the former. The cheese and German chocolate pastries weren’t as good.

Citadines said we didn’t have to change rooms, since they’re both the same class. It’s nice to have good WiFi here, though it won’t work with my Kindle, as is usually the case. The bathroom in Citadines could have been better in several aspects, like better toilet paper and lighting good enough to shave well.

We exercised in their fitness center. It was the best fitness center of the trip so far, though small. It was hot, but I got someone to turn on the AC, and could have done so myself if I’d had my glasses. They had towels and water. They had free weights for my squats. There were even showers next door. The only problem was that the strength machine was an odd one where you’re supposed to pull cables for everything, and I couldn’t figure it out.

Our room wasn’t made up yet after working out, but when they finally came we went to lunch just north of the hotel in Barangay Seoul, an all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue and buffet. At a little after 1 PM on Saturday we had to get on a waiting list. We started at their buffet, getting dishes on a 9-hollow plate. We also got silverware and bowls of rice there. Then we went to our table where they put some bacon on the propane grill for us. BP turned over the bacon till it was cooked. The barbecue wasn’t anything special. My favorite dish was the red sweet and sour chicken from the buffet. BP and I both agreed the restaurant was too noisy and hot to want to go again. It’s 379/person and we spent 878. On the way home we got a decent panna cotta in the Abaca coffee shop.

When we got back our room was made up, but they didn’t replace the bath mat. So we started with five towels, including the two in the kitchen, and now we’re down to three after a couple of cleanings.

We went to the pool. The day was cloudy and cool, however, so we didn’t spend much time there. It’s nice that they have towels there, though.

Our original trip plan had a lot of things to potentially do on southern Cebu island: visit the Simala Shrine, then the whale sharks, then several of the beautiful waterfalls, then the famous Kawasan Falls canyoneering, then Osmena Peak, then Moalboal for snorkeling and good restaurants, and finally back to Cebu City. We didn’t have time for all of these, though.

I’d debated what transportation to use on this trip, and it seemed best to either rent a car with driver or rent our own car. Apparently it doesn’t cost a lot additionally to get a driver, and he’ll find his own places to stay at night. I’d read mixed opinions on whether you should drive in the Philippines. Some say never do it: it’s too risky. Others say it’s fine outside of the major cities. I decided to save some money and rent a car, be careful, and hope things were ok. We’d get the car on Sunday in Cebu City, when traffic should be at its lowest.

I’d hoped to book a SUV for safety, but wasn’t finding brands/models that I knew and trusted. I would have been happy to find a fine sedan this American was familiar with like a Honda Accord or Toyota Camry, but the only one of those I saw was a Camry for $100/day, which seemed excessive.

We ended up going with a subcompact Toyota Vios, which was a brand I trusted, through Cebu Rent a Car (https://www.facebook.com/ceburentacar01) for only 1,700 pesos/day for four days. There were also dropoff/pickup fees of 300 pesos, they’d bring it to our hotel, and they could pick it up wherever we want. They wanted a 1,500 deposit too. We had to send them pictures of two IDs. I’d pay in advance, when we got the car.

We went to dinner at Boosog Lasang Pinoy, just south of the hotel. They were out of many foods, it took the servers a long time to get to us, and it was rather noisy, but the barbecued pork and chop suey were a pretty good meal and value for 645 pesos.

July 31, Sunday:

There was a room check leaving Citadines, and it took well over their 3-5 minute estimate.

We ended up rating Citadines as the 6th and 5th (me and her) best hotels of 13 on our trip, just below Quest, so the lowest of the three hotels we tried in Cebu City but not bad.

When I visited Cebu City in 2019, I stayed with a different girl at One Central, in the old Colon neighborhood, in a one-bedroom suite. It was our favorite hotel on that trip, of about seven places. Of course, that was probably mostly that it was the only one-bedroom suite of that trip, but the restaurant was also decent and it had a roof pool. Based on the prices and reviews I see, it still looks like one of the best values in Cebu City (ABC would be another, but I haven’t tried it yet). Another possible lesson: I seem to favorite one-bedroom suites; I guess I like my space and dining tables to eat takeout foods at.

We got our Toyota Vios rental brought to the hotel. The delivery guy didn’t explain anything about the car, and it took me a while to figure out that I had the CVT in “manual” mode. It was delivered with less than a quarter of a tank of gas. When the tank got low, it cost 2,513 pesos to refill it. I liked the car more than I expected, but you can’t see its corners, so I found backing up in particular uncomfortable.

Sunday may have been the day with the least traffic, but it was still heavy for most of our day, including well south of Cebu City. Certainly the roads seem undisciplined and dangerous compared to the US, but it’s hard to know if I’m at high risk or I just need to adjust to their habits and be careful and I’ll be fine.

We drove to Simila, part way down the east coast of Cebu. I’d seen the stunning pictures of this shrine and wanted to visit it, and BP did too. Drive to the last parking lot, which is closest to the church. Unfortunately, Sunday is probably the busiest time of the week and it was very crowded: visit some other day. They didn’t allow clothing which ended above the knee, like my shorts and BP’s dress, so we had to rent sarongs for 40 pesos each. Unfortunately, Simala was mostly closed at the time we visited, for construction or something, which we hadn’t known in advance (lesson: research better: recent reviews mentioned it). We saw one side of the outside of the church, but not inside, the other side, or the garden. It wasn’t worth it. BP would like to come back some other time, e.g. to pray before her exams or something, and I’d consider it if it were fully open and we could see the whole place.

Afterwards we spend 215 pesos eating in a carinderia outside the church grounds (there were many businesses and hawkers outside the church), and it was pretty good for a low-end place. I kind of like eating cheap like the locals, especially the bakeries.

Heading farther down the east coast, stopped for a bathroom break at the Gaisano mall in Oslob. It was way downscale from a mall like Ayala Center Cebu.

There was a wild monkey viewing area south of Oslob, which I’d found on Google Maps, but it was closed by the time we got there.

We’d booked Susada’s Inn, which had high ratings everywhere, near the Oslob Whale sharks. We got one night on Booking.com for $34.80, though it was a double room. Susada’s Inn is a low-end place, in contrast to its high ratings. They don’t provide bottled water or any toiletries to their guests (like shampoo or soap). We had to buy water and shampoo at the adjacent sari sari, which I believe is under the same ownership. We had a choice of two rooms, and one had insects all over its shower, which they’d killed with insecticide. We took the other one. The shower flow was low, so it took a long time to have a shower. It had a real-time water heater. There was no bath mat. Their WiFi seemed very weak, and Smart’s signal was poor or out, so we switched my phone to its native Google Fi eSIM (uses Globe in the Philippines) for data and turned on the hotspot; Fi data is about 10x the price of local data, but I was glad to have the option for backup. Susada’s is a place targeted at locals, without the amenities westerners expect, though it was bearable. If I came again, I’d stay someplace more upscale, like Down South 118 Beach Resort looked to be when we passed it by.

Susada’s made me seriously question the reliability of online hotel ratings. I think this place must have gotten high ratings from locals. Maybe it’s better to focus on non-Asian sites like TripAdvisor or Booking.com, and pay attention to what the foreigners say in their reviews. I had seen something about Susada’s not providing toiletries in the reviews, but ignored it because the ratings were high.

We ate dinner at Caferoniq, less than a mile away. We were the only guests at this simple family business, but it took a long time to get our fair food: Bicol Express, Chop Suey (which became my default to get vegetables in the Philippines), fish for BP, and a mango shake. It came to 600 pesos. I’d try to find other places in this area to eat.

August 1, Monday:

In the morning before breakfast or showers we drove the short way to the Whale Sharks. It was 500 pesos each. Snorkeling masks were readily available, but we had to ask for snorkels, after which they were provided for free. We didn’t have to wait long (tourism levels weren’t yet back to the pre-Covid level). Ideally we would have had a wet bag to put our things in, but we put my tourist bag inside the towels we’d brought from the hotel, which we put on top of life vests on the bottom of the boat, and they kept dry.

We swam with the whale sharks only a few dozen yards off shore. You can get up really close, and I accidentally touched them several times (they say you should avoid that). It was interesting, but probably more for me than BP, as she doesn’t really swim and just held on to the boat and watched.

Afterwards we ate at a decent restaurant right there, at a place called MQ Café.

Then we drove towards our next stop, near Kawasan Falls. It was a nice drive around the southern end of Cebu and up the west side: pretty, and without too much traffic.

We drove to Cuestas Resort, where I’d booked two nights for $51.50/night. This was a really highly-rated hotel, but the room was underwhelming: dim and not pretty, and there was no desk to work at. It was well stocked with drinks in the refrigerator and snacks, but no water. There were plenty of outlets, but only one bedside stand. The bed was just a double, not queen. I saw some small insects and lizards. The WiFi was inadequate, so we used my hotspot. They had sheets instead of a blanket, unusual in the Philippines and I approve. There was no safe. The waterfront area seemed unfinished and the chairs by the pool were falling apart. The pool table in one of the open-air buildings was tiny and there was no chalk for the pool cue.

We had lunch in their restaurant, but it was rather weak. They didn’t ask us to pay, just for our room number, a convenience compared to some of the other places I’d stayed. They did have real towels at the sink outside the dining area CR, a nice touch.

We asked about Kawasan Canyoneering, and they booked us for 8 AM the next day, 1,600 per person including lunch. It’s the hotel’s own canyoneering company. They’re probably the hotel closest to the canyoneering.

I don’t like dining outside, which is so common in the Philippines. Some places are better than others, however: there were insects on our table at Cuestas during dinner, unlike our favorite Dolce Amore in Siquijor.

Our dinner in the hotel was pretty good. The squash coconut soup was pleasant; and my main of salmon with a lemon sauce, hashed potatoes, and vegetables was quite good. They forgot our dessert, however. When we got it, the chocolate banana crepe was good.

August 2, Tuesday:

During the night at Cuestas the AC turned off. It seems that it had been on a timer, and I didn’t absorb that when I initially looked at the controls. In the morning, the water turned off for a couple of minutes. The shower had poor water pressure, the soap dispenser in it opened when you tried to dispense soap, and the sink tap also has poor flow.

The owner had returned from Denmark our first night, and the hotel may well function better with him there all the time. I overheard him tell a story of how the previous (fired) manager had cheated him while he was away. They didn’t make up our room, and the owner explained that they weren’t allowed to with covid protocols, except for long-stay guests. He said they’d provide anything we needed, however. We ran out of toilet paper (there was no extra roll). We asked that it be refilled and the trash taken out, and the owner did that himself.

So this was another hotel with really good reviews, that I thought would be five star for a much lower price, that really wasn’t that well run.

At breakfast we got one American and one Filipino breakfast. Their chicken tocino was above average. The American breakfast had decent bread fresh from the oven, and I liked it with marmalade.

We had a private guide for Kawasan Falls canyoneering, waiting for us while we ate breakfast.

I had water shoes, but my experience with them was that they slipped around some. I thought I’d try the resort’s water shoes, looking for tighter ones. I still chose the wrong pair: I should have chosen too-tight ones: the ones I ended up with were about the same as my own ones, and my feet slipped around in them a bit, which made it hard to keep my balance on the rocks in the river.

We paid 600 pesos extra each to go on a zip line beforehand, which cuts down walking time to the top of the falls by 35 minutes. It wasn’t really scary, or particularly fun, for me.

The jumps in the canyoneering were exciting, however. The trip is mostly about jumping down falls or from ledges into the water. There's lots of moving down the river inbetween, mostly walking.

We should probably have taken advantage of a wet bag more. Our guide had a small one, and we bought water partway through the trip and kept it in the bag, along with our room key. Of course, I’d bought us both waterproof cases for our smartphones before this trip as well. You can take pictures through them and they worked reasonably well, at least once I figured out you have to take the case out of the water to push buttons (e.g. starting/stopping video when you’re snorkeling). We stopped for candy and soda during the trip too, to make sure we had the energy to finish it.

It was definitely a memorable event which I’m glad I did, and I’d do it again in the future if someone wanted. BP said it was her second-favorite thing of the trip, and I probably agree.

For lunch after Kawasan (at the resort, included with the trip) we had decent sweet and sour chicken and a good chocolate crepe, which BP thought was better than the chocolate banana one we’d had before.

At dinner, our table was covered with insects. They brought me a place mat that was riddled with insects too. They moved us to another table that didn’t have a working bulb over it to attract bugs and brought me another place mat, which solved the problem. Our watermelon shake was good, better than the other shakes we’ve had there; our pork with red wine sauce was quite good. The chef brought us our chocolate crepe WITH our dinner, then thought better about it and came back and asked us about it, and we asked if they could keep it in the freezer till we finished our dinner. Another oddity is that they play hard rock in the restaurant.

I’d come on this trip prepared to propose to BP if it worked out. I knew you needed to be engaged to file for a K-1 visa (foreign fiancée of Americans) and that the visa takes quite a while to get (maybe a year), so I thought we’d better get started on it as soon as possible if we were going to do it.

I knew how BP wanted to be proposed to: wearing a certain-color dress at sunset. I told BP to put on that dress, dressed nice myself, and said let’s go watch the sunset on the waterfront. I thought me asking her to do all those things would be a dead giveaway, but she was actually surprised when I proposed to her! She said yes and was happy I’d remembered what she wanted. She hadn’t expected it on my first trip to visit her.

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James Bond

August 3, Wednesday:

Cuestas didn’t take credit cards, so I had to pay 6,700 cash for our meals and canyoneering upon checkout.

We ranked Cuestas Resort 10th and 9th (me and her) out of 13 hotels we stayed in during this trip.

We drove back to Cebu City, and found amazing parking right on Osmena Circle near the travel agency for 20 pesos for an hour. There was a guy there with a machine who printed us a parking ticket. We picked up my passport and visa extension.

We had lunch at Chow King (big chain) nearby. I didn’t like my Siomai that much, so I’d stick to their Shanghai Lumpia in the future. They did have pretty good bathrooms in two visits today (one was a break on the drive). We paid 295 pesos for our two dishes and two sodas.

Then we drove to Pier 1, where we’d get the OceanJet ferry back to Bohol, and again got parking really close to it for 20 pesos, with someone with a handheld device.

We waited for the owner of our rental car there. During our journey to Cebu City, he’d said we had to have the car washed, but I told BP to say no, that wasn’t in our agreement. He didn’t mention it again when we met him, was friendly, wanted my business again, and quickly gave us back our 1,500 peso deposit, so I may use him again.

The ferry terminal fee in Cebu was 25 pesos, paid before seat assignment, the opposite of in Tagbilaran. Business class had a CR this time, and it was better than the cattle class one, though still bad.

The best place to find ferry schedules can sometimes be on their Facebook pages, for example https://www.facebook.com/oceanjet/ is better than their website.

At Tagbilaran port, downtown in the city, a taxi to Kew Hotel was 200 pesos.

I’d previously booked the Kew Hotel. It was $56/night for a Deluxe room, which Agoda said was 36 square meters (the largest non-suite of our trip) with breakfast.

We wanted to try three hotels on this visit to TagB, to determine where we might want to stay in the future. Two days earlier, I’d been booking us rooms online, but the Dao Diamond and Bohol Ecotel didn’t have regular rooms available for tonight and tomorrow (so book a few days in advance in the future), so we booked Kew first.

Kew hotels is northeast of town, on the main road out of town, JA Clarin Street. It’s within walking distance of ICM (Island City Mall), perhaps the top mall in town. BP’s family is that direction from town, so we thought it would be a convenient location. Tagbilaran (TagB) is unusual in that none of their malls are national chains: all are locally-developed I believe. Recently, however, SM announced plans to build in TagB, pretty near to ICM. I assume it will instantly be the top mall in the city.

Kew Hotel wanted to see my vaccine card and get a 1K cash deposit. This time I gave the deposit so that we could charge things to the room. The room appeared to be first-world. It had a room-service menu and Kleenex (though harder, like small paper towels). The safe was too small for a laptop, and didn’t even have batteries in it. The WiFi was strong, and worked with a Kindle. The work area had a bad working position. There was no hand towel, only a bath mat and shower towels. They make up the room every day unless you ask otherwise (in contrast to Questas’s claim that they weren’t allowed to). They want you to put towels on the floor if they should be replaced, and a card on the pillow to replace linens (so still not what I was used to, growing up in the US). The bed has only a blanket, as is usually the case in the Philippines, not a sheet; I don’t like that. The shower fan didn’t work, we told them about it our first evening there, and they didn’t fix it while we were there.

They only gave us one card key, and said they couldn’t give us others that night since the hotel was full. When we went back to our room it was much warmer, since the power had been off. The next day we got another key. We saw a cockroach by the door when we came back, but managed to get him outside of the room.

Their roof deck lounge wasn’t operational after the typhoon (December, 2021), though they appeared to be fixing it.

We ate dinner in their restaurant, Café Melecia. Their menu is extensive. Our “appetizer,” of beef salpicao, was enormous, and quite good. Our main of adobong kangkong with lechon kawali was fair (BP liked it more). Our dessert of leche flan was good. Our meal cost 695.

August 4, Thursday:

There was a brief power outage during the night, less than a minute I’d say. It was hard to figure out how to turn off the some of the bathroom lights in Kew: I figured out during the night that they’re under a water-protecting cover in the bathroom, separate from the main bathroom light, which is outside. It’s difficult to adjust the curtain, and the first night we didn’t close it completely so it was bright in the morning. There was a good bit of street noise on our top floor room. In the morning, we discovered that there’d been a window open since we arrived! After I closed it, there still seemed to be a good bit of street noise, as the AC unit isn’t well sealed. The shower could be better: the overhead rain head had low flow and the handheld one falls down.

At breakfast in the hotel restaurant, they again didn’t have napkins (we requested and got them last night, but not this morning). It was a buffet, and I didn’t like it as much as the other breakfast buffets we’ve been to. I don’t like pinakbet, one of the few Filipino vegetable dishes. Their corn chowder (an egg drop soup) was a reasonable option to fill me up, with egg and vegetables in it.

We got to our second breakfast there earlier (a little after 9 versus a little after 9:30), and there were more options: we were offered an omelet and hot chocolate, and they still had marmalade and more fruit. Orange marmalade has emerged as a breakfast favorite for me, I liked the ham and cheese omelet (though I should try just cheese for health), and the egg drop soup again was pleasant.

When we got back to our room, it was made up, but they’d taken our shower towels. They quickly provided new ones when informed. The humidity is rather high unless you turn the temperature down to around 73, which is cold for BP. I found humidity in the 70s frequently in the Philippines, with AC on, which is higher than normal in the US. The toilet tended to clog, and when informed of it Kew didn’t unclog it until after we asked a second time.

Before noon, ICM grocery store wasn’t crowded, so I guess I should do shopping earlier.

We dropped our laundry off at Perpax Laundry in ICM, and they said they’d have it about 24 hours later. When I got it back, the whites were no longer really white and my shorts were rather wrinkly (not pressed).

We went to lunch at House of Lechon, a small chain based in Cebu City. It had a pretty, new facility and was a bit farther out of town on the same road. It was one of the better-to-best meals I had in the Philippines. We started with squid balls. It was good, wasn’t too large, and had a nice, sweet sauce. Then we got lechon paksiw, which was pretty good. We got decent vegetables in oyster sauce with it, and didn’t finish that dish. We finished with an Oreo Mango Float, which was good to outstanding and I was tempted to order a second one. We spent 1,045 in all.

Before House of Lechon, we’d tried to get into two different restaurants, but they were closed for a private/catered events. Perhaps that’s more common in the Philippines, and we should call restaurants to see if they’re open.

The next day I Messengered Smoque Bistro, a well-reviewed place I wanted to visit, and they replied promptly. It’s good to remember that this is a Facebook-centric country, and Messenger can be a quick and easy way to get information.

For dinner we ended up going to CocoBerry Café, more towards downtown on that main road, JA Clarin Street. It’s the most girly restaurant I’ve been to, mostly in décor, but also in small portion sizes. It was pretty good, however. BP’s fries were good. My Salisbury steak was pretty good. My chocolate frappe was pleasant, but not as good as an actual shake. BP’s previous favorite, Brownie Sizzle, was pleasant but not something I’d order again. I wasn’t sure I was full, so I also ordered one of their snacks, a ham and cheese sandwich. It was above average and tasty. We spent 700 pesos. I wouldn’t make a point of going there again, but it’s an above-average option if you’re in the area.

Note that most restaurants in the Philippines close at 9, or even 8:30 PM.

August 5, Friday:

In the hotels with just blankets, not sheets, I decided I should turn down the temperature at night and turn it up during the day. I keep the temperature a lot cooler (73F/23C) than BP likes, but she survived with the heavy blankets here and the warm pajamas I bought her after I arrived.

BP and I agreed that Kew was about an average hotel and ranked it 7th out of 13 hotels we stayed in. We agreed, later, that it was the second-best hotel we’d stayed in in Tagbilaran, out of four.

I’d booked one night at the Dao Diamond Hotel, a bit farther out on JA Clarin Street. You may recall this is the hotel with mostly-deaf staff that we’d eaten in before; the organization that runs it is right next door. We had to call them on the phone, as they don’t do online booking (later they said use Facebook). We chose to try their Superior room with a microwave and mini kitchen over their newly-renovated Deluxe rooms, with just a refrigerator (I’d choose the latter if I had to do it again, though). Both were the same price, $41 without breakfast. When we checked out of Dao Diamond, however, they only charged us 1,812 pesos, or $33.

When we checked into the Dao Diamond hotel we asked to look at a Deluxe (refurbished) room while our Superior (microwave and sink; both have refrigerators) one was being prepared. The Deluxe appeared to be a much better room: larger, and with two (versus zero) places to open bags.

We didn’t try the pool, but it looked nice. Our safe was too small for a laptop. The WiFi didn’t work on BP’s phone (it worked on our other devices other than Kindles), but the desk agent was able to get it working, saying you had to go to a portal. The bed has a sheet, which I prefer to the heavy comforters that are standard here. The only water in the room is paid, not free. When I asked, they said it was ok to order Foodpanda delivery and eat in our room. A bulb inside the door and another over the bed weren’t working; when we checked out they asked how our stay was, and seemed interested when I told them about that. My initial impression was that this is a superior hotel by Philippines standards, if you get the refurbished Deluxe room.

We ate lunch at Your Lounge Café, just north of Dao Diamond. Their chicken kare-kare was good, other than the bones in it. Their blueberry cheesecake was average, but pretty big (why is that dish so common on this trip to the Philippines?). They have a variety of things on their menu I’d like to try, like coconut shrimp. Their CR wasn’t operational. We spent 540 pesos. I may return.

We tried to order Jollibee on FoodPanda. Between starting and completing my order, however, they became unable to deliver tonight. Perhaps it was too late, they didn’t have enough drivers, or demand increased due to rain. The exercise also reminded that mobile phone verification codes often take many minutes to deliver in the Philippines, unlike the US, so just wait for them rather than thinking something is wrong. BP didn’t want to go to a Jollibee in person, since she said they’re very busy at night and she doesn’t like the crowds/wait. I did see an option on Foodpanda to pick up, instead of getting delivery. Maybe we could have used that to save time getting Jollibee at a store.

Instead, we tried to go to Chido Café, south of downtown. When we arrived around 8 PM, however, they said they were closed, despite Google saying they’re open till 8:30 PM. It’s risky going to Filipino restaurants at 8 or later.

We went to Jose Tagbilaran restaurant near there (downtown area). They’re the rare restaurant here that’s open reasonably late: 10 PM, 9 on Sundays. It was outdoor, covered seating. We ordered 3 good BBQ pork skewers; a decent vegetable dish, tortang talong (battered and fried eggplant); and sisig, which was better than the last one I’d tasted, but still slightly spicy (I can’t tolerate more than a little spice) and not something I’d order again. Our dessert of mango floats wasn’t that good. We spent 720. I was skeptical of our ability to get transportation after 9 PM, but we saw a bunch of trikes parked nearby, empty without drivers, walked over to them, BP asked someone, and we got a trike back to our hotel. Still, though, getting trikes in the evening in TagB may not be easy.

The lighting in our Dao Diamond room was dim. We couldn’t find a way to turn off the bright TV, with no signal, so we unplugged it. The satellite receiver was still lit up, however. The AC was fairly noisy, and there was some street noise too. The toilet paper was rather weak.

Can anyone explain what’s up with the security theater in the Philippines? They have a lot more guards than in the US, and I don’t think the Philippines is a particularly violent country. Every time you go into a mall, they want to pretend to look into your bags after you go through a metal detector. It seems like make-work. I know labor is cheap there, but it still seems unnecessary, and even an inconvenience to customers.

August 6, Saturday:

A la carte breakfasts at Dao Diamond were 200 pesos each. BP got a hot dog with rice and I liked her hot dog, which tasted a bit like an English/Irish breakfast sausage. We were the only people in the breakfast room after 9 AM.

When we checked out of Dao Diamond, they only charged us 1,812 pesos, $33, not the $41 their web site indicated. She said they don’t have online booking, but we can contact them through Messenger. They had a tuk tuk there to take us to our next destination.

We ended up rating Dao Diamond 3rd and 6th (me and her), out of the thirteen hotels we stayed in in the Philippines, and it was the favorite in TagB of both of us. Our Superior room was pretty good, and I’d definitely try staying in a Deluxe room there in the future. If we’d stayed in a Deluxe room I’m sure we’d have liked it more. It is a ways from the town center, but it doesn’t take long to get there, and ICM mall is quite nearby. It’ll be my first choice to stay in TagB in the future, though I’d give Kew another chance, and there are a few other places on my to-try list (plus AirBnBs).

I’d booked two nights at the Bohol Ecotel for $24/night. It’s downtown, south of the city center. That rate included breakfast and was for a Superior room, which is better than their basic ones.

We moved to the Bohol Ecotel. When we checked in they asked us to order breakfast for the next morning, and we were supposed to do that daily. Some of the breakfasts have an extra charge, though we didn’t order those ones. We did order some drinks at extra cost, however: sikwate and a mango smoothie. If you eat dinner there, the last order is 7 PM or so. My initial impression of the hotel was underwhelming. Our Superior room of 22 square meters was small, though it had a table and small balcony. The bathroom was small, the design could be better, the door squeaked, and the toilet paper was weak. The room did have sheets instead of a blanket, and a quiet air conditioner. The humidity was rather high, around 70%. There weren’t enough outlets, and they weren’t easily accessible. There’s no safe. We only saw a few small bugs at this hotel, which was among the best we experienced on the trip.

We got BP visa photos. Then we went a bit south of downtoan along the ocean to highly-rated Chido Café. I didn’t like it: the seating was uncomfortable and it was open-air at lunch, so hot. My Korean shrimp bowl was slightly spicy, as was the free popcorn they gave us to start off with, and I don’t like spicy. The popcorn container had an ant crawling on it. The Coco Colada (banana, coconut, pineapple) drink was decent. The smores dessert was weak. The bathroom door wouldn’t close properly. It does have a nice view over the sea to Panglao. I doubt their menu/style is that appealing to me, and I probably wouldn’t return.

I had difficulty booking our flight on to Manila (the end of our trip was approaching, and BP wanted to see me off) on the Philippine Airlines site: they couldn’t process my credit card, and it wasn’t on Citibank’s side. I found a workaround: I booked it through Agoda instead. It was $153, which I believe was cheaper than it was on the Philippine Airlines site. I didn’t see a way to add checked baggage for me. Later, going to Philippine Airlines’s site, I was unable to check in online (a message said payment wasn’t complete) or buy a bigger checked baggage allowance (it wouldn’t process my credit card). Yet later, I was able change seats on the PAL site, getting us an aisle and middle seat with the window seat empty. On our flight it was still empty.

I had similar difficulty booking an AirAsia flight back to Bohol for BP, so we didn’t book it yet. Why did my credit cards suddenly stop working, when my credit card companies said they didn’t see any attempted charges? Was it some kind of regional block?

We went to well-reviewed Smoque Bistro for dinner. It was great fun till the bill came. It was perhaps the best service we’ve experienced in the Philippines (very attentive). There was a singer and a keyboardist, they performed good music, and they performed a request for us. Our seating was comfortable, we were inside, and the restroom was good. I loved the fresh complimentary bread with a nice spread, though BP didn’t like the spread. The mango shake was good, the best we’ve had. We told ourselves it was our engagement celebration, and we were having great fun. The scallops appetizer, 445 pesos I think, was large and rich, but only pleasant. The beef salpicao, 695 pesos, was pleasant. Unfortunately, they don’t include VAT in the prices, whereas everyone else does, which is misleading. The real problem, however, was the dessert. We chose it from a case before our meal, they didn’t show prices, and we didn’t think to ask for them. We got a burned Basque cheesecake, large enough for two. It wasn’t a particular favorite. When the bill came, we saw it was 1,099 pesos (1,231 with the 12% VAT). I felt scammed. It turned a terrific night into an unpleasant memory. It was our second-most expensive meal of the trip, at $49.72. In retrospect, I should have taken a picture of their itemized bill, and should probably do that for any large or unexpected expenses.

It was almost 9 PM when we left the restaurant, and we had difficulty getting transportation. I’ve always worried about getting transportation in Tagbilaran after dinner, and sometimes it takes a while. This time, we waited near the restaurant, which still had a guard there, for a while then walked northwest to the next intersection and a trike soon came by. I wouldn’t be nearly as comfortable taking local transportation without BP’s help.

August 7, Sunday:

I found our Bohol Ecotel room too small to be comfortable in. I had more complaints about the bathroom, including the bathroom mirror being too low for westerners.

It could be noisy in the morning, e.g. we had some dogs nearby that were loud on occasion. I think I’d sleep better at many hotels in the Philippines with earplugs, so I should bring enough of them to use daily in the future. I’ve used foam-rubber earplugs for about half my life, since I lived off Second Avenue in New York City after I graduated from college and it got loud before dawn, and I think they’re great.

I had a real problem with my nose running earlier in the trip. It eventually went completely away, but it returned, and I was coughing more this time. I’m not sure if it was Covid, my acid reflux (my bed head is raised at home), the heat/humidity, not cleaning my CPAP tubes regularly, or what. I didn’t have these problems on my last visit, in 2019. One night, turning the temperature down to about 70 may have helped with the congestion.

Based on experiences like Susada’s and Bohol Ecotel (both highly rated), I’m starting to think that price is a better indicator of Westerner-friendliness in hotels than Agoda, and probably Google as well, ratings, which may be based on locals with low standards and don’t seem to be adjusted for who’s doing the ratings.

Breakfast at Bohol Ecotel: our mango shake was good, probably better than the one last night at Smoque (but the next day it wasn’t as good); I tried sikwate again, and it was rather bitter, confirming I don’t like it. The breakfast was only fair overall.

We didn’t want to be interrupted in our room, so when housekeeping came we just got them to replace the towels and empty the trash. Later we thought to get additional toilet paper as well, since they didn’t have an extra roll in the room.

I bought BP’s flight back from Manila (after she’ll see me off there) to Tagbilaran on Cebu Pacific, after she tried herself but her debit card wouldn’t work (what’s with all the card problems?). This time it went through without a problem on my card, with Citibank texting me for verification. The flight cost $55. Cebu Pacific was flying from Terminal 3, which would have been convenient with a Belmont stay (but we’d already booked a different hotel, wanting to try multiple options to know what to use in the future).

Two days later, however, Cebu Pacific emailed her:

“Your transaction was immediately processed according to our policy on card payment screening. After further verification, we regret to inform you that the payment for your booking has been declined, because it has breached certain risk parameters set up in our system…. Your booking is still confirmed. However, full payment of the amount due needs to be settled to be able to take your flight. Payment can be made in cash or card at any Cebu Pacific ticket office or at the airport upon check-in.”

On the day of her flight, BP went to the airport and a security guard told her she could skip check-in and go to her gate (she had a printed boarding pass), and she did so. I said that was risky, but that I trusted her. They wouldn’t let her board, however. They said the credit card holder wasn’t the same as the person on the ticket. It’s possible I didn’t check a box that says you’re buying a ticket for someone else, though BP thinks I did (and I remember telling her about that option as I booked some ticket). She had to pay for a ticket on the next flight, an hour later, at the same price. They said their credit card machine was down, so she paid cash, and fortunately I’d anticipated that contingency and given her enough cash to do so. She was lucky that they had a flight an hour later, and that they gave her the same price. Three days after I bought the ticket it was refunded on my credit card. We discussed her decision-making later and she said she was nervous so she made a mistake. We’ve had a few conversations since then about how she needs to trust what people SAY less (especially, unfortunately, Filipinos, including that security guard), and trust facts/research more (and I'm pleased to say she’s getting in the habit of researching things now).

Given the trouble we had with payments late in our trip, I thought we should have money transfer services like GCash, GrabPay (which is taken by Cebu Pacific and PAL), and PayMaya as backups (PayMaya really seems to have gained marketshare on GCash). Later, BP and I got fully verified GCash accounts; we have Grab, though I haven’t tried GrabPay and BP hasn’t used Grab yet; and BP also verified PayMaya I believe.

BP tried to carry her suitcase, backpack, and purse onboard, but they only allow two items, so she had to put one of the others in her suitcase.

That flight is in the future, however: back to Sunday, still in Tagbilaran.

We went to Angel’s Burgers, because BP had been telling me about their cheap burgers (two for 27 pesos). They’re a big chain of tiny places that many Filipinos can probably afford to open. We got four cheeseburgers for 98 pesos. They had too much bun for the meat, and the cheese should have been melted better, but they were still pleasant. That store was about to go to being open 24 hours/day, handy in a place where most restaurants close around 8, though I don’t think all the branches are open that long.

We got our dessert at Mosia Café, a well-reviewed coffeehouse/bakery. It looked like a comfortable indoor setting. We took out a slice of banana cream pie. I thought it was pretty good, but BP didn’t like it as much.

Then we went looking for Kleenex for my runny nose at local small stores. None of them had them.

We’ve been emailing documents, e.g. itineraries and boarding passes, to the front desks of hotels to have them print them for us. Bohol Ecotel took many hours to print them and charged us a fee, both unlike the other hotels we'd stayed at.

In the Philippines it’s the tradition that the guy asks the girl's parents for permission to marry her during a dinner in the parents’ home. I’ll suggest some books on Filipino culture later if you're interested in learning things like that. Her family home is simple, so I asked her if it was ok to take her parents to a restaurant instead. She said it was fine in this day and age.

We had arranged a taxi to pick us up for our dinner with her parents. We made a couple of brief stops on the way (we finally found small Kleenex containers at a 7 Eleven, which is a useful chain in the Philippines), then picked up BP’s parents and took them to the dinner. The taxi cost 450. It was quite comfortable and the driver seemed good. We arranged to pay him 700 to take us to the airport the next morning at 10 AM, 2 ¾ hours before our flight. He was a driver from Varescon Transport Services, the leading (I think only, currently) taxi company in Tagbilaran. His personal phone number is 09186964683. I’d been wondering if there was any better method of transportation in Tagbilaran, so when we saw a taxi outside the mall once we made a point of finding the driver (we asked the guard at the entrance I believe, and soon found the guy). We got his contact information, and that’ll be really useful for TagB in the future.

What BP taught me to say to her parents during this dinner: Hello, Kumusta? P(u)wede magpakasal sa inyong anAK? (Can I marry your kid?) That’s my phonetic version of the Bisaya (Cebuano). When I asked it, her father asked me to repeat myself (he said this to BP, as they don't really speak English). She later told me that’s because they were so surprised to hear me speak their own language. I repeated myself and both of them immediately said yes.

Funny anecdote: after our return to TagB (before this dinner), BP had run across her mother downtown when we were doing some shopping. Later, I asked BP “what if your mom saw the ring?” BP told me later that her mom HAD seen the ring that day, so they knew what was coming!

The House of Lechon dinner was mostly the same meal we had last time, except we had lechon instead of lechon paksiw this time. The paksiw was better. Her dad wanted dinuguan, a dish of intestines, so we got that as well. I tried it and found it very rich; I wouldn’t eat it again. There was a lot of that dinuguan left over for him to take home. The meal was pleasant, but didn’t wow me. The did like that favorite dessert from last time, the mango float. At $35.33, it was only the fourth-most-expensive meal of our trip (not counting transportation), despite being for four people.

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James Bond

August 8, Monday:

Upon checkout from Bohol Ecotel, they would only take cash or bank transfer for incidentals, not credit cards.

None of the hotels we stayed in in TagB had fitness centers. I think the only gym in town up to good Western standards, based on Google reviews, is Ripped-City Gym, downtown near the ferry pier. It has AC and a day-pass is only 200 pesos (in 2019 in Davao I remember paying 500 pesos, which seemed excessive to me).

Between getting in our taxi in TagB and when we could have been at the gate in Panglao airport (if we hadn’t bought food at the airport before going to our gate), it was well under an hour.

I only had a 10 kg checked bag allowance, and my bag weighed 18.9 kg on check-in, but they never asked me to pay more, and there were no problems.

I later realized that my tourist bag with a power bank in it was in my checked luggage. It’s easy to forget to put things like that, my travel mouse, or my ear buds, in a carryon.

When going through security this time, they told me to leave my water behind, but didn’t tell BP to do so. The difference was that my water was visible in the pouch outside my backpack, and BP’s wasn’t.

There were two vendors on the first floor of the airport that we could buy food from and bring it on the plane, and we did so. There was no option to buy food on the flight. They served us water and a snack onboard. Our PAL flight was roomier than our AirAsia flight earlier in the trip.

Upon exiting Terminal 2 in Manila there were various people wanting to separate us from our money, but we used the yellow metered taxi for 170 peso (don’t use the yellow coupon taxi, which said it would be 550) to get to the Savoy Hotel.

I’d booked the Savoy Hotel for before my flight home and the night after for BP. It’s north of sister hotel the Belmont. Breakfast was included for $71/night, a bit less than Belmont would have been and far cheaper than Dusit Thani in Makati (I might try Makati in the future, though I mostly prefer to avoid Manila’s traffic and expense).

My first impression of our Savoy Hotel room is that we were back in the first world. There was a box of Kleenex in the room, and four waters. They had a blanket, not a sheet. We looked around their health club (but didn’t work out), and it seemed far better than any of the hotels we’d been at, with lots of good, working equipment, like a quality standalone health club. There was one non-working power outlet in our room, continuing the streak of problems with each Belmont/Savoy room I’ve been in. There’s a bright light near the bathroom (night light?) that we couldn’t shut off, so we covered it with a pillow at night; later we asked housekeeping if there was a way to turn it off and someone showed us that there was a switch near the bed that controlled it (not at all intuitive). There was too much noise from outside the room, e.g. a crying child early in the morning. Overall I liked the hotel.

For my flight home, I was able to check in and change seats, but not get a boarding pass. I believe I changed to a better seat for the first leg, and did have an empty seat next to me near the front of the plane on it. I kept my seat on the second leg; it had an empty seat next to it at the time, but not when I got on the flight.

We got in a white taxi that the Savoy security guard found for us. I asked the driver why the meter wasn’t running. He said it was a fixed fee arranged by the hotel. I think he was lying. He wanted 200 for a short trip, which was probably too much. When I reported this to someone in the lobby of the Savoy, he later approached me asking at what time it had happened. I was going to show him a picture of the driver’s ID I’d taken, but he was busy with other customers and said he would come to my room to see the picture I had taken. He never did, however.

The starting fee for white taxis is 40, 70 for yellow, so the white must have higher per-mile charges and be better for shorter trips.

We went to dinner in Casa Buenas, in the Okura Hotel in Resorts World. It was the most beautiful restaurant we’d been in on the trip, the sort of showpiece you’d expect in a complex with expensive hotels and a casino. Early on, the service was a contender for the best as well, but we got a new waitresses and service slowed down. I found the food to be just pleasant, but BP rated it as the best meal of our trip, mostly for the setting. It was expensive, and they concealed the cost by not including VAT and a 10% service charge in the prices. BP said she saw them noted on the menu, but I missed it: be careful to look for such things at upscale restaurant. We spent 2,076 pesos ($37.49), the third-most-expensive meal of the trip. My favorite thing was probably the complimentary warm sourdough bread with four butters. The shrimp isaw, sinulog, roasted vegetables with chorizo butter, mango shake, and tableya dessert were all pleasant.

There are plenty of stores near the Savoy. It’s more like a real neighborhood than the Belmont’s area. From 7 AM to 7 PM, you can exit the back/northeast entrance of the hotel to the next block. There’s a Lawson’s right there, but if you go to the far side of that block (through the parking lot is easiest) you’ll find ATMs, convenience stores, and a Metro supermarket (everything but a Jollibee).

August 9, Tuesday:

Though the Savoy buffet was big, we didn’t like the food much. Their cheddar cheese was bad. I discovered a new favorite, however: peanut butter on pandesal, which BP says is one of her favorites as well. She said the Savoy's pandesal is a really good example of the bread.

I wanted to get BP a Jollibee treat on my last night there. BP was crying a lot, very sad about me leaving (and she cried a lot later too). Foodpanda declined all my credit and debit cards, and even PayPal, unfortunately (again: what was up with that?). When BP tried, they declined her debit card too. She was able to pay with GCash, however.

Then I also set up a GCash account, claiming to be a resident of the Philippines at BP’s address, and went through the verification process in an attempt to increase my limits. I succeeded, though it took almost a month for them to verify me; BP got verified too.

We got our Foodpanda order from Jollibee. We put our room number in the order. The concierge called and asked if we’d ordered from Jollibee. They brought it up about 22 minutes after the Foodpanda driver had called us and we’d told him leave the order with security.

We liked our Jollibee meal of fried chicken, spaghetti, and fries. We tried all three of their pies for dessert and agreed on the ranking: peach mango first, ube was good too in second, and buko only pleasant in third.

I asked the guy who brought our food up to us if we could use the Belmont’s roof deck (since they’re a sister hotel). He said he’d find out and call us, but no one did. That’s the second staffer there that said they’d follow up but never did.

We went downstairs to the Savoy hotel restaurant for a last, light meal. The croque madam, fries, and blueberry cheesecake in a can were all pleasant, but the hot chocolate was weak.

BP and I ranked our favorite hotels of the trip. My list is:

1.     Harolds in Cebu City, especially the one-bedroom suite

2.     Savoy

3.     Dao Diamond

4.     Belmont

5.     Quest, Cebu City

6.     Citadines, Cebu City

7.     Kew, TagB

8.     Oasis, Alona Panglao

9.     Bohol Ecotel

10.  Cuestas, near Kawasan Falls

11.  Coco Grove, Siquijor

12.  Susada’s, near the Whale Sharks

13.  Gabriella, TagB

Her list is:

1.     Harolds

2.     Belmont

3.     Savoy

4.     Quest, Cebu City

5.     Citadines

6.     Dao Diamond

7.     Kew

8.     Coco Grove

9.     Cuestas

10.  Bohol Ecotel

11.  Oasis

12.  Susada’s

13.  Gabriella

I left for my 11:55 PM Asiana flight from Terminal 1 just after 9 PM.

I made sure to tell the guard outside that I wanted a metered taxi, and he said it to the taxi driver. When I got into the white taxi, however, he didn’t want to turn the meter on. He wanted 200 pesos. I said turn on the meter or we’d get out, and I opened the taxi door. He said ok, and plugged in the meter. The fare ended up being 114 pesos, I believe.

The next day, after I’d left, when BP went to the airport, the driver’s meter wasn’t on. She told him to turn it on. He ignored her. When she got to the airport (a short drive from the Savoy to Terminal 3), he wanted 300 pesos. She said she’d give him 100. He threatened to take her back to the hotel, but she didn’t give him more (good for her!). So that’s three of three white taxis that tried to scam us outside the Savoy.

Maybe we should have used Grab. My impression is that it’s better. It required a credit card with a code (meaning PIN, presumably) so it didn’t work with my Costco Visa (preferred travel card for 3% cash back and no FX fees) but worked with my Schwab debit.

This time when I went through security my water was in my bag, but they caught it on the x-ray anyway and told me to throw it out.

At immigration, she asked me if I’d been able to pay for a visa extension (since I was a day over the 30 days). I said I had. I did see an immigration cashier desk nearby. I don’t know if it would have been cheaper to pay there than to pay the travel agency earlier, though I’ve read someone say you have to pay a penalty if you don’t renew in time.

I was at the gate at 10:05, about an hour after I left the Savoy, and 1:50 before my flight. I probably don’t need to arrive that far in advance.

I was able to leave the gate after I arrived: I just had to leave them my boarding pass stub and they gave me a number. Since I only had a backpack with me, it was no problem to leave and come back.

A few notes on the trip home, then I’ll get into some miscellaneous and summary stuff.

August 10, Wednesday:

The first leg of my return to Florida got into Seoul Terminal 1 early in the morning, and there wasn’t any place open to buy water for a long time, though there were water fountains. In the transit lounge all the napping areas were full. When restaurants finally opened at 7 AM, I had breakfast at Paris Croissant Kitchen, a tasty choice.

Then I had the long flight from Seoul to New York. The plane had both 240-volt and USB-A outlets, the latter on the bottom of the video screen.

I used more than one water on the long flight, so it’s good to bring plenty.

When I got to JFK airport in New York, the Global Entry kiosk just took my picture and told me to go to an agent, who was at the end of a Global Entry file.

I got my checked bag, then went to the connecting flights area right in Terminal 1. The Asiana person wasn’t at their counter, but a helpful worker must have seen me looking confused and asked if they could help me. He said he’d just seen the Asiana person, then found her for me. They took my luggage right there in Terminal 1 before I took the AirTrain to Terminal 5 for my next flight. Your first flight back into the US, you have to get your bag and go through security again: you can't just check it through to your final destination.

Pre-check was an immense time savings: the line for “all gates” in Terminal 5 was really long, but there wasn’t one for Pre-check. I got in the “all gates” line first, however, before someone pointed out to me that I could go to the Pre-check line. I hadn’t seen it, but there was a sign for the Pre-check line. Pre-check comes with Global Entry, which is a good value. I’m not so experienced a traveler that I don’t make mistakes regularly in airports, but people have often pointed out my mistakes without me needing to ask.

I had a full-service sit-down meal at AeroNuova in Terminal 5, since I had another long layover and felt like relaxing, but it wasn’t that good.

Unlike my flights to the Philippines, I ate few, if any, of my energy bars on the flights back.

After returning:

The day after returning, my body water reading was the highest I’ve ever seen it (61.5%) and my bodyfat was anomalously low (down 1.5 percentage points from before the trip, despite weight being up 13.5 pounds). I have a Tanita scale that measures those things, since I like to track my bodyfat. Later, I noticed that my ankles were really puffy. I didn’t take off my athletic shoes on the last leg of the trip, though I unlaced them, because there were no slippers. Maybe that was a mistake, or I should wear my Sperry Topsiders on planes, as they’re always loose. I usually take off my shoes on long flights, and don’t think I’ve had that problem in a while. About three days later I measured my weight and bodyfat again and got normal readings. They indicated I’d gained about 11 pounds and one percentage point of body fat. I hadn’t worked out much on the trip, and had eaten much more than my healthy habits at home.

Two days after I returned, I was exhausted, went to sleep early, and slept for 13 ½ hours, with a few wakeups in there. Then I did a Covid test, as I was supposed to see family, and tested positive. Being very sleepy was the worst symptom I had, and I didn't seek treatment. I guess I caught Covid on the trip back.

Miscellaneous notes:

In the US I noticed that texts defaulted to my Smart SIM and didn’t send. Then I looked at Messages (Android) on my phone again, and saw that it had a number in the text field which corresponded to which SIM you were using. Google Fi, my cell-phone service, was 2, and you could change which one it used by tapping on the number.

I did enable overseas roaming with Smart before I left the Philippines, so that I can receive texts if necessary for verification or something. Now I’ll just have to get my fiancée to register my Smart SIM, which I think she should be able to do in her name, with me sending on the SMS code (I haven’t tried that yet, though).

When I was in the Philippines there were regular notifications that the Google Maps location was inaccurate, but they stopped when I got back to the US. I’m not sure why that would be.

When a hotel asks for your passport, they’ll accept your driver’s license.

We spent $6,727 on the trip. That doesn’t count gifts for BP, but does count the luggage I bought her. My cost per day, not counting the plane ticket but counting traveling days, was $154/day.

When I asked BP in December, 2022 what her favorite things were we did on the trip, she replied both snorkeling experiences. I remember most fondly the first snorkeling and the tunnels under the aquarium. We both thought canyoneering wasn’t as fun in retrospect as it seemed at the time (though it makes for great photos and is memorable).

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James Bond

Some of the top things we planned to do but didn’t get around to on this trip:

Osmena Peak. It’s a hike near Kawasan Falls, not too far from Moalboal. This was BP’s top priority when we talked about things we’d planned to do but didn’t get around to. It’s only about 20 minutes to get to the top.

Moalboal was my top priority of things we didn’t get around to. For snorkeling, like the sardine run, and it has some good restaurants too. Panagsama Beach is the core of it, and also visit nearby Pescador Island. We might want to stay in the heart of the scene/beach snorkeling area.

The waterfalls of southern Cebu. There are some great ones there, and we wanted to do a tour of the best of them.

Island hopping from Panglao. BP particularly wanted to see dolphins. Balicasag and Virgin Islands were the usual island-hopping trip from Alona, but Virgin was closed for anything other than visiting in 2022 (even snorkeling). You can rent snorkels on Balicasag, then it’s recommended you go to the less-crowded far side of the island.

(Pamilacan Island is also known for dolphin watching. They say you have to go early: one article suggested 5 AM, another that they’re most visible around dawn. Trips there go from Baclayon or Loay on Bohol island.)

Cebu Ocean Park. We were in a tunnel through the aquarium (on the way to an evening dining experience), but it might be nice to see the rest of it.

Some other places I'd like to visit in the Visayas: Malapascua, Anda, and Camotes.

Finding good hotels:

I've complained about well reviewed hotels not living up to expectations. Here's one reason why, maybe: I posted some hotel reviews to TripAdvisor. Multiple of my reviews mentioned cockroaches we'd seen. Every time, TripAdvisor sent me an email asking me to confirm that I wanted to post that review, as I'd mentioned cockroaches. That's biased: it will reduce negative reviews. Of course some booking sites only allow reviews from people that have stayed there, and say they post all reviews, positive and negative (e.g. I think Expedia says they do both of those things). Some of the places I stayed were based on high verified-stay reviews, e.g. Agoda, however, and weren't that good.

Culture:

I'd been learning about the Philippines long before visiting, mostly by reading the forums like this, but also by reading books. If you're interested in learning about Filipino culture, my favorite books are (BP liked them too):

Understanding Filipinas: A Cultural Guide for Western Men, by Nicholas van Pelt

50 Things You Should Know Before Marrying Your Filipina Girlfriend, by Charlyn Lez Dumanon-Moss and Edward Moss

Also, for a laugh, I'd read Girls Love American Men in the Philippines, by Buford Perry. It's about his first trip to the Philippines, looking for a girl, where he was treated as a Fat White God while they used him for his money.

K-1:

Within a month of getting back to the US, I filed the I-129F, which starts the process of her getting her K-1 visa. BP follows some Facebook group for similar couples, and reported the timeline for one recently. If we match their timeline, the I-129F could be approved this month, then she'd go through the K-1 application, and it would be approved around May. I'm not counting on that schedule though. Then she has 6 months to use the visa, then 90 days to get married when she gets to the US.

I mentioned that she lost both her jobs because of me, one of which was a scholarship. She really wanted to get a job after I left, and wanted to take a job that would have interfered with her being a full-time student, but I wouldn't let her. She said she wanted to work because she'd feel bad about taking my money, and also wanted to help her family. I think it was more the former, because I'd talked to her about feeling burned by that girl in 2019. I said be patient and we'll get you a better job. I wanted her to work online. I put her in touch with one of the other girls I'd talked to, who had a good online job. She ended up getting that, and two other online things, so she has three that pay pretty good for part time now.

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newtocebu

Thanks for sharing, and congratulations on your engagement

Seems that just about everything is much more expensive nowadays

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